Evolution at All Bar One as it hits 20

All Bar One 02 cocktail station

Mark Ludmon reports on the “evolution” of Mitchells & Butlers’ enduring bar concept which this year celebrated 20 years

It is 20 years since the first All Bar One bar opened – in Sutton in south London – but the concept has outlived many of its former competitors through regular re-invention. The brand’s owner Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) has been investing this year in new sites that display a more contemporary interior design and elements such as stations for cocktail master classes.

Over the summer, it opened two new All Bar Ones in London: one in the 62 Buckingham Gate development near Victoria station and the other over three floors in The O2 in Docklands. Lead designer on the projects was Design Coalition, which also works on M&B’s Harvester pub-restaurants and Miller & Carter steak restaurants.

The changes have been more of an “evolution than a revolution”, says senior project designer Neil Mahoney. “The recent openings encompassed a fresh new look for All Bar One which retained the brand core values for a female-friendly-led social environment. We looked to reinvigorate the brand principles, with the introduction of a number of design features.”

These new features include elements that accommodate larger groups, such as the master class station and tasting table which are part of all new All Bar One sites. In Victoria, there are two “mixology tables”, seating up to 10 people, where, for £20 a head, bartenders provide mixing tips and show consumers how to make three of their favourite cocktails. At the wine-tasting table, people can learn the basics of wine or brush up on their knowledge.

Both the Victoria and The O2 sites benefit from expansive glass windows, combined with sleek natural wood interiors, low lighting, leather banquettes, high tables and stools, and clever design touches such as interesting light fittings and bespoke toilet doors. “These are interwoven with a more contemporary furniture range incorporating a wider palette of finishing materials such as feature tiled-top tables,” Neil adds.

At Victoria, customers can enjoy drinks on a covered outside terrace and at The O2, the terrace overlooks the entertainment and leisure complex’s main entrance. While the Victoria bar is over 380 square metres with 200 covers, the three-storey venue at The O2 is much bigger at 1,283 square metres, with 400 covers as well as a bar on the top floor. With subdued lighting, dark wood tables and deep leather armchairs, this is an elegant, intimate lounge, with a big-screen TV, a dedicated bar and its own mixology table. During events at The O2, it remains open until 2am on Fridays and Saturdays and 1am Monday to Friday.

All Bar One helped to revolutionise the quality of wine in pubs and bars in the 1990s, and it continues to offer a good-quality, carefully selected list by the glass and the bottle, from classic styles to lesser-known varieties. The latest cocktail menu is a mix of popular classics such as a Mojito, Cosmopolitan and Daiquiri through to “Discovery” drinks including a Basil and Chilli Caiprioska combining Smirnoff Black vodka, lime, chilli, basil and a splash of La Paz Sauvignon Blanc.

Wine cocktails figure prominently on the menu, such as the Southside Vine, made with muddled mint and grapes plus Tanqueray gin and Italian sparkling sweet white wine Frizzante Mosketto. Another is the Barbera Berry, combining Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum, strawberry and pineapple with the big berry flavours of Italian red wine Barbera Da Vine.

A list of “soft-tails” offers the likes of a Virgin Southside Vine, made with fresh mint and grapes muddled with agave nectar and topped up with soda, alongside premium soft drinks from Bottlegreen and Fever-Tree. The wide variety of premium beers in bottles and on tap include Doom Bar and Peroni on draught.

With The O2’s bar opening at 9am and Victoria’s at 8am, All Bar One offers all-day casual dining, from sandwiches, burgers and main meals through to tapas-style dishes for sharing. Made from seasonal ingredients, these small plates include Szechuan-Coated Crispy Calamari, beef meatballs in a Catalan sauce, chorizo, and salmon ceviche.

The development of All Bar One is also extending into the travel sector, with new-look bars opening at Birmingham Airport in April and May this year – one landside, one in departures – with their own tasting tables as well as a grab-and-go coffee and sandwich offering. With these additions, the number of All Bar One sites has hit 50, part of an increased capital spend by M&B. Along with its brands Harvester, Toby Carvery and Miller & Carter, the 20-year-old All Bar One continues to be a focus for the group’s strategy for expansion.

All Bar One, Unit 2, The O2, London SE10 0DX Tel: 020 8305 9522
All Bar One, Retail Unit 1, 62 Buckingham Gate, Victoria, London SW1E 6AJ Tel: 020 7828 9772

Who did it
Design: Design Coalition
Main contractor (The O2): Sanderson Contracts
Main contractor (Victoria): Harvey Shopfitters
Lighting: Lightique
Furniture: Target Furniture
Bar systems: ServaClean
Feature tiling: Square Foot Ceramics

Originally published in the print edition of the September 2014 issue of Bar magazine.

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