Two nights ago the pop-up Chalet Bordel launched in Shoreditch. Imagine, if you haven’t yet been down, a cosy French-styled basement covered in fake snow, ski racks and pine trees with cocktails fit for skiers coming straight off the mountain and into the bar. Essentially it's hot punches, bracing liqueurs and boozy hot chocolates galore.
Of course Chalet Bordel is by no means a yearlong bar. Hot chocolates in July, boozy or otherwise, are somewhat uncalled for. However the bar beneath all the fake snow and pine trees is far more permanent; Joyeux Bordel is east London’s resident ECC bar and has occupied its basement space on Curtain Road for over a year now. But rather than simply launch new cocktail menus like its many neighbours, it’s setting a trend to undergo a complete makeover and name change. Chalet Bordel is now the second of these self-hosted pop-ups, with Tiki Bordel having taken over in the summer. And so, it was with these thoughts, as I was enjoying my seriously strong Green Chaud and pungent raclette, I decided to find out why.
The ECC group is a global company with bars, restaurants and hotels across New York, London, Ibiza and Paris. Its style is designer French with contrasting patterns in dark, subdued tones, dominating each site. This is a slick, international operation with a slick, Parisian look and having visited nearly all their venues throughout Paris and London (still holding out for Ibiza) I’ve come to think of Joyeux Bordel as its naughty and rather playful, younger sister.
Joyeux Bordel, when it’s not hosting a Tiki or après-ski party, is very much in-line with the rest of the group in as much as it’s a gorgeous bar. But it’s a lot looser than even ECC in Chinatown. This is where the cool kids come to play on the weekend, avoiding the jostling crowds of Cargo for the sound system, intimacy and good drinks of the subterranean bar.
Yet in case you thought it took itself too seriously, will its plush décor and stout doormen, the very idea of Chalet Bordel should prove you wrong.
“Some of the humour can be missing in this industry, so when I put a blow-up penguin in the bar and tell my staff to create a cocktail based on hot chocolate like we drink in the mountains, it’s about having fun,” says Xavier Padovani, one of the co-owners of the ECC group.
Xavier is explaining to me what goes in to creating these facelifts for the bar, which are by no means a cheap investment. As he confides that this latest one has gone a smidge over budget – but then blow-up penguins and ski racks don’t come cheap – I suspect an English owner might not be able to so stylishly shrug away a slight overspend.
Either way the pop-ups aren’t huge income generators – after all fake snow has a price and there’s still no cover charge or price increase in the drinks. What they’re about, says Xavier, is having some fun in the more quite times of the bar’s year. January and mid-summer are typically the biggest lulls you’ll have in the cocktail industry, when people are either drinking in the park or not drinking at all.
Back in the summer Tiki Bordel was a rum-fuelled party, decorated with elaborate island grasses, trees and staffed by bartenders wearing an eye-watering amount of floral shirts. It looked like Joyeux Bordel had taken a vacation to the tropics and returned with a new lifestyle choice.
“The bartenders were a little hesitant at first, they’re all serious guys who love serious drinks and Tiki banana cocktails seemed silly. But when they started to get the rum trainings and open their eyes up to this category they went and created the best tasting Tiki banana cocktails around,” says Xavier.
While the Tiki pop-up was indeed a foray into great tropical classics, it was also a subtle teaching for customers into the complexities of rum. The backbar was rearranged into different styles – from single distilleries to types of still. You had just to ask a question and could have very easily fallen into the rabbit hole of spirit education. Take-overs happened weekly, with bartenders flying over from Barbados to infuse a little Tiki spirit and by the end of the pop-up regulars were asking if it could stay as Tiki Bordel.
“The whole experience is super rewarding. We’re here to give customers a good time, and this is a way of having more tools to have a better time. It automatically affects the engagement of the bartenders as well,” says Xavier.
With the success of Tiki Bordel under their belts, Chalet Bordel was next. And again you could come in for a winter vibe, cosy and atmospheric, and leave having had a great time, or you could learn something about all the wonderful winter drinking spirits which now adorn Xavier’s backbar.
Casting an eye over the ski lift seats, bartenders in beanies and gilets (how are they not roasting?) and the enthusiastic customers sipping their chalet cocktails, it’s easy to see how well the formula is working. It’s a bit silly and a bit French and a bit fun, but mostly it’s encouraging people to come down and try a whole new style of cocktail, spirit and culture. And how many new menu launches can claim that?