I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to cocktails and spirits, so it’ll come as no surprise to you that I spend a good amount of time sat in bars staring at the back bar or the cocktail list. I’m always fascinated by the choices made by bars as to which products they buy into and choose to use. Obviously you have your house pouring spirits, which are often selected based on finding a balance between quality, price and support offered by the brand, but then you have a whole back bar of products that tell you something about the venue you’re in.
It’s interesting when visiting other countries that you find certain products that consistently appear on the back bars of the best cocktail bars. Many times they are the same from country to country, but sometimes you notice something different. Not necessarily a product that is local to that market, but maybe a brand that has caught on in one place but not in another for reasons unknown. So the last time I was in New York I found it strange to see Banks 5 Island Rum almost everywhere I went, when it’s so seldom found in UK bars. It made me think that I should probably take another look at this product.
There are a handful of bars that have become truly iconic and have stood the test of time; Milk & Honey in New York springs to mind, Lonsdale for many years, but go into any quality cocktail bar almost anywhere in the world and mention LAB bar in London’s Soho and bartenders know exactly where you’re talking about.
For those of you who are scratching your heads and saying, ‘LAB? never heard of it!’ it’s about time you crawled out from under your rock and had a look around. LAB has been at the sharp end of the bar scene in the UK for over a decade and while it’s had it’s ups and downs it’s never really fallen from grace. Right now LAB feels as though it is on an up-swing again, so I’m readily anticipating many more years of greatness from them.
You see LAB was created as a proving ground for bartenders, a place where good bartenders went to become great bartenders. The name stands for ‘London Academy of Bartenders’ so you get the idea… Some of the leading lights of the bar world learnt their trade here and the list of ‘star-tenders’ who can trace their roots back to this bar is long and legendary. The fact that half of them have gone on to become brand ambassadors and are now leading the life of luxury shouldn’t put you off drinking here though, as each in turn earned their reputations by putting in the hours perfecting their craft. LAB has always been a place bartenders work to take that step beyond just making drinks; to learn the craft of tending bar.