Mark Ludmon drops in on the second site for London neighbourhood bar Brick & Liquor
It is just over a year since David Layton unveiled his first bar, Brick & Liquor, in Tooting Broadway in south London but not only has he already opened a second site for the concept in nearby Clapham but he has his sights set on more. Like many bartenders, it was his dream to open his own place after starting his professional career in 2005 at The Point in Sunderland, going on to build his skills and experience at Amber Lounge in Knutsford in Cheshire, Revolution bars and most recently Novus, where he ended up as an operations manager for West End bars.
The Brick & Liquor concept was inspired by the edgy urban vibe of New York City’s East Village, developed with leading bar and club design practice Design At Source. At 1,000 square feet, the latest site – close to Clapham South tube station – is slightly bigger than the first, with a capacity of 100, although they tend not to let it go above 75. But it shares much of the aesthetic of the first site, most importantly the brickwork that gives the bar its name – uncovered after stripping back layers of plaster and tiling. Stuart Trett of Design At Source adds: “We always try to use the building to the advantage of the design. That could mean exposing original brickwork, reusing existing floors or even – as in the case of the first Brick & Liquor in Tooting Broadway – retaining old fire damage on show. These elements give a sense of history and ‘depth’ to the design which so many cookie-cutter brands from the big multiples lack.”
At the Clapham bar, an intimate, cosy feel is created through the décor’s warm colour palette with reclaimed wood panelling, brass fixtures, fittings and pendant lighting. The solid-steel bar is lined with stools but otherwise it is 100% table service at all times – part of David’s ethos of what a good bar should be. “We offer hospitality, not service. We’re proud to offer a level of hospitality rarely found outside the centre,” explains David (pictured above). “We recruit staff for their personality – we want them to be themselves.”
Although David remains hands-on, the Clapham bar is run by assistant general manager Shane Dobson who is also responsible for creating the cocktail list for both bars. To help people choose what to drink, the menu opens with a flavour map that shows the careful thought that has gone into the different options, from “refreshing” or “strong” to “comforting” or “adventurous”. At the stronger end are the Zombie Next Door, a refreshing twist on the classic with kiwi, watermelon, pink grapefruit, lime and orange mixed with maraschino liqueur and Havana Club 7 Year Old rum, and the Burnt Orange – a warming infusion of flamed Martell VS cognac, orange curaçao and orange bitters, garnished with toasted orange slices.
One of the most popular choices is the Salted Caramel Espresso Martini, made with Absolut vodka, espresso, coffee liqueur, vanilla, salted caramel and a hint of orange. The more experimental side can be seen in Deconstruct – Reconstruct, which pulls apart a classic Bramble with crème de mûre, lemon juice, sugar, egg white and a mini bottle of Beefeater gin that empties out as you drink it. “We try to have a little bit of theatre with every drink,” Shane adds.
If you’re lucky enough to find any left, you can enjoy the Nine & A Half Weeks – a mix of Havana Club 3 Year Old rum, orange curaçao, white vermouth and orange bitters, all aged for nine-and-a-half weeks in a small oak cask conditioned with a merlot and IPA. Bartenders are also trained to make any classics that people are likely to ask for. Customers enjoy the bar’s cocktail club every Thursday where they can learn how to make their favourite drinks. Wednesdays are wine night, where they can sample three guest wines at their table while a member of the team talks through tasting them.
Because there is more space, Clapham’s Brick & Liquor is able to offer beers on draught as well as bottles. It also means, it can have a small kitchen at the back where, under head chef Antonio Barton, a selection of “Social Eats” are cooked from scratch, inspired by European and Asian cuisines. Sharing plates priced at £6 and £9 include pork belly bites, in a sweet chilli and sesame seed glaze, and arancini stuffed with mozzarella and chorizo, served with white truffle mayonnaise. Open weekdays from 5pm, the bar is set to start opening earlier for lunch. At weekends, a brunch menu is available, offering the likes of kedgeree, smashed avocado and salmon, and pancakes – including the Great British Pancake stuffed with fried eggs, smoked bacon and sausages.
Despite the small footprint, the Clapham bar finds space for a live musician on Thursdays and also has DJs on Fridays and Saturdays till 1am closing. The concept has proven a success at both sites by targeting people who live locally, David adds. “Brick & Liquor is a neighbourhood cocktail bar, focused on people who are within walking distance.” He and the other three directors hope to take Brick & Liquor to more neighbourhoods within London, focusing on Underground zone two. “We are aiming for areas with the same kind of catchment demographic of people aged 30 to 40. We’re constantly looking for new communities where we could make a great addition.”
Brick & Liquor, 47 Balham Hill, London SW12 9DR
Originally published in the November 2017 print edition of Bar magazine.