Adapting trends in hospitality

25 April 2024

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The story behind the espresso martini shows how even huge hospitality trends can spring seemingly from nowhere. From Maybe Sammy in Sydney to Bangkok and Paris, insiders reveal their secrets for finding the next big thing for menus and venues.

When a model strode into the Soho Brasserie in 1984 and ordered something to ‘Wake me up then **** me up,’ bartender Dick Bradsell turned to his immediate surrounds for inspiration.
The bar had just installed a new coffee machine, and with its counter dusted in fine grind he knew the drink would be tasting of coffee no matter what. He added vodka, a shot of coffee, and Kahlua into a glass, shook it and served up the world’s first espresso martini.
Daughter Bea recounts today he had scant inkling of its future icon status. “He knew it was a flavour people were responding to, but I don't think he had any idea. And it didn't really reach the heights  we know of now until after he passed in 2016.”
The modern-day classic turns 40 this year and is more popular than ever, recently ranking seventh most-popular drink in the UK, and second in the US.

A technological twist
A bartender and hospitality consultant with The Drink Cabinet, the Bradsell junior has seen and served a life’s worth of espresso martinis, and delights in seeing it twisted anew – from stirred drinks, to milk punches and slushies.
She describes a recent variation at Satan’s Whiskers, which explored how time affected different stages of the coffee process as “absolutely beautiful – not a traditional espresso martini in any sense of the word, but delicious.”
 (In case you’re wondering, according to Bradsell, the point an espresso martini twist stops becoming an espresso martini is when there is no shot of espresso.)
Last year the Internet blew up over a recipe garnished with parmesan cheese, which fazed her less than you may think (she sometimes adds salt which has the same effect on the taste).

“Doing twists is a great way to allow bartenders to experiment without having much risk to the bottom line on the menu. Because coffee cocktails will always have a certain profitability and it’s a flavour that is popular,” Bradsell explains.
Here, technology is helping venues jump on trends and easily create their own versions. One example is the nitro espresso martini machine, now commonplace in pubs up and down Britain. “Teams have a simpler training on the bar and can make a more complex cocktail without as much knowledge.”

From delicacies to drinks
The environment is also a rich source of inspiration – especially in the fast-growing cocktail scene of southeast Asia. Just ask Tom Hearn, who moved from Britain to Bangkok to manage Vesper bar (No. 12 in Asia’s 50 Best), and its newly opened sister 4th Wall.
“I love just foraging and learning about seasonal wild ingredients. It's the best way to get the best quality ingredients. It’s about utilising seasonality and what you can find in the wilderness.”
Foraging is not only about scouring forests and mountains (make sure you take a guide, especially for mushrooms), but local markets, delicacies, and recipe books. Hearn says much can be easily adapted into delectable new drinks.
“You'll find something weird, like a sesame dumpling in a ginger soup, and it's delicious. You can definitely translate that almost 1 to 1 into a cocktail. You make a sesame and ginger martini with a black sesame dumpling inside as a garnish. Boom – there's your drink!”


Animate your ideas

Cultural cross-pollination was certainly at play when Sydney’s Maybe Sammy opened five years ago. The original concept was to bring a luxury European hotel experience to the glittering harbour city.
A hotel bar without a hotel, helmed by some of the world’s hottest bartenders such as Andrea Gualdi from London’s Artesian, and Martin Hudak from The American Bar at The Savoy. This was a serious bar, with serious ambitions.
Bartender Sarah Proietta reveals a turning point in the bar’s direction, and fortunes, was a formative trip its co-owner Stefano Catino took to New York. Perusing lower Manhattan he was flabbergasted by his experience in bars such as Katana Kitten, where guests feel they have stepped into a Tokyo side street, sipping Asian-inspired drinks served with Japanese street food.
“He was so blown away by the attention to detail, and the fun he was living that he actually cried,” Proietta recalls. From then on, creating a fun vibe for guests would be their paramount concern.
Bubble guns became part of the service (they go through two a month), and at a given moment each night, the team down tools for a choreographed dance. With their famous pink dinner jackets, the bar has become a social media phenomenon, recognised in 2023 with its number 1 ranking in the Top 500 Bars (a ranking based on Internet popularity).

Be adaptable
From the glamour of Sydney to the grunge soul of Paris, the origins of Abricot bar were a little less linear. The first idea of co-founders Jennifer Crain and Allison Kave, natives of Los Angeles and Brooklyn, was a bar offering small sharing plates.
Along came Covid and upended their plans. They saw the trend of ready-to-drink cocktail delivery taking off in the US and decided to try. “Is that something Parisians would accept?” Crain remembers pondering.
Their RTD delivery service, Izzy’s, was a surprise hit, arriving in neatly packaged boxes complete with a baked treat (Kave is also a baker). The market corrected when Covid restrictions were lifted, customers again seeking the vibrancy of physical venues. The duo followed suit, opening Abricot at the start of 2023.
The street corner bar has quickly won the hearts and tastebuds of an international clientele.
Unashamedly American, the bar hosts theme nights around major holidays, offering special cocktails for Thanksgiving, Halloween and Cinco de Mayo – something few other Parisian bars do with regularity or aplomb.
“We have a lot of feedback we’ve brought something to the Paris community that wasn’t there before,” Crain says.
While theme nights are fun, for Crain, it’s less important to follow a trend, than to follow one’s values. Take for example Abricot’s approach to responsible service. The bar offers alcohol-free versions of cocktails that look identical to the originals, and a no-low apero hour.
Crain’s reasons for offering them date several years from her own personal experience. “It came about after being pregnant twice and only being able to drink Shirley Temples and apple juice, and other such uninspired options for a grown woman.”

The secret sauce – distilled
The last word goes to Sarah Proietta, who says being authentic is more important than any trendy theme or viral drink.

“Maybe Sammy is very authentic because we like what we do and we have fun along the way. We have a fun with the with the guests, and I feel because it is so genuine, that's why it's so successful.”
Then she picks up her bubble gun and gives us one final spray.

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