Call of the Kuckoo: cocktails and music in Sheffield

Kuckoo Sheffield

Sheffield has become the third location to welcome the call of Kuckoo

Richard Powell has been behind bars for 16 years. After starting out at The Living Room in Manchester in 2001, he graduated to other leading venues in the city including The Circle Club and Restaurant Bar & Grill. During this time, he became friends with Johnny Culkin and Rodrigo de Araujo and, together, they opened Kuckoo in Richard’s home town of Preston in Lancashire in 2010, going on to develop a second in Chester in 2013. They have now opened their third Kuckoo in Leopold Square in Sheffield, revealing the latest evolution for the concept.

At its heart is the cocktail – it has a list of 65 of them and they account for 80% of sales. There’s no food and no live DJs – it’s all about people socialising and enjoying great drinks and great service, Richard explains. There are also no promotions such as a happy hour. “We want customers to choose us because of the quality not because of the price.”

The first Kuckoo was inspired by speakeasies, with a decadent feel enhanced by a colour palette of red and black – the bars all have a distinctive red glow. They later added a gold tin tiled ceiling to amplify the light, followed by the installation of a gold-glowing onyx bar when they refurbished the Chester bar in January this year. These all work together to striking effect in the 250 sq ft new bar in Sheffield, with onyx used for the bar counter and back-bar shelves plus long circular chandeliers. All the sites have a curated soundtrack of rock ‘n’ roll.

Kuckoo Sheffield

The same menu runs across all three bars, changed every six months. They range from twisted classics, such as an Old Fashioned made with Rittenhouse Rye, Mozart Black liqueur, muscovado sugar, absinthe and bitters, to “bastardised” classics such as the popular Spiced Rum Mai Tai with Four Square Spiced Rum. Favourites include the Ten Dollar Shake with Stolichnaya Vanil vodka, Butterscotch Teichenné, Strawberry Nesquik and fresh cream, garnished with a doughnut.

The lists are devised by the bartenders, with the spring/summer list led by Chester’s Jake Cain-Cairns. It is part of the company’s “manager-less” system, with no general managers or bar managers. Each night, the bar teams divide out their roles themselves while corporate issues are dealt with by sub-teams from across the group such as the “research and development” team who devise the menus. “It is surprising how adults get on with their jobs when they are empowered to do it,” Richard says. Training is provided by the team with support from award-winning consultant bartender Jamie Stephenson.

The “indie rock ‘n’ roll cocktail” concept is not stopping at three. A fourth Kuckoo is already under development in Knutsford in Cheshire in the former site of The Bronx American Bar & Grill in Princess Street and is due to open later this summer. They are on the lookout for a site in Manchester and would love one day to take Kuckoo to London.

Kuckoo, 7a Leopold Street, Sheffield S1 2GY

kuckoo sheffield

Behind the scenes
Bespoke bar systems: Caterfab
Refrigeration: Hoshizaki
Stone: Granite House
Furniture: Seating Unlimited
Joinery: Colin Ball and Steve Garner

Originally published in the July 2017 print edition of Bar magazine.

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