Charles Montanaro talks to Mark Ludmon about changes at expanding bar group 5cc
The name of London’s 5cc bars may be inspired by a measure used in medical science – equivalent to 5ml – but, with new menus and new venues, they are trying to inject more fun into the drinks. “While we are about being as precise as a medicinal measure, we are not trying to be too serious or experimental,” explains 5cc’s group bar manager Charles Montanaro.
He was promoted to the role in June last year by pub and bar operator Barworks which has been developing its 5cc concept since the first opened in Exmouth Market, hidden upstairs at the Exmouth Arms, two years ago. Charles reworked the group’s drinks offering in time for the launch of the fourth 5cc in November, underneath Barworks’ Electricity Showrooms bar in Hoxton (pictured above).
The menus have dropped the history behind each cocktail, letting just the name and ingredients entice customers, alongside illustrations inspired by the bars’ quirky branding of two burlesque dancers with skulls as heads. “We are trying to relax things and make it more fun,” Charles adds. “Our drinks are still high-quality with high-quality ingredients but with a more cheeky tone.”
The new menus are divided into sections including “Revival”, featuring twisted classics, and “Lucky 13”, comprising original drinks. Overseen by Charles (pictured below), each 5cc has a unique list developed by the bar managers: Daniel Andersson in Hoxton, Ivan Villegas at Exmouth Market, Jorge “Daniel” Alvarez at 5cc below the Well & Bucket in Shoreditch and Andrei Marian beneath Harrild & Sons in Farringdon Road. “All the bars have the same high quality but each one does it in a different way,” Charles adds. “We are a collection of bars, not a chain.”
In Hoxton, Revival cocktails include an Italian Gentleman, inspired by a Negroni, combining bourbon, rye, Campari, white vermouth and maraschino liqueur in an absinthe-rinsed glass. One of the Lucky 13 is the Capsicum, with sloe gin, white rum, lemon juice, peach chilli syrup and egg white.
All the bars except Exmouth Market have added sharing cocktails in small wooden barrels, such as Hoxton’s Barrel’y Legal combining rum and a “rock candy” cordial made from ingredients including star anise, cloves, vanilla and orgeat syrup. The bars no longer have their original focus on different spirits categories although a broad range of whiskies can be found in Farringdon Road and tequilas and mezcals in Exmouth Market. As well as stocking lesser-known spirits brands, the bars pour two gins and a vodka from East London Liquor Company, set up by Barworks director Alex Wolpert.
With its copper bar top, high leather chairs, booths, black sheen walls and neon-style lighting, 5cc in Hoxton is inspired by the other bars but with unique features such as a 1970s-style colour-changing disco floor. It is also the first 5cc to have its own street entrance instead of being hidden inside a pub. With a fifth bar set to open in 2015 near Liverpool Street station, 5cc is no longer quite the secret it once was.
A version of this profile originally appeared in the December 2014 print edition of Bar magazine.