If you were mooching around the Brick Lane end of Bethnal Green Road lately you may have noticed an innocuous bare retail space. In fact you probably saw a few as the area boots out the surplus wholesale leather shops and gives way to the likes of Brew Dog, Well & Bucket and LCC Shoreditch.
Just a few days ago however this particular empty shop had its windows covered up, concealing the interior overhaul and signs stuck to the glass that read;
Starts Trading January 2016
The Cocktail Trading Company
London, established 2014.
Just another venue for the already successful empire of Andy Mil, Olly Brading and Elliot Ball you might think. And indeed you might, considering the Great Marlborough Street site is already listed as one to watch in the World’s 50 Best Bars and the Smithfield site has kicked off to a roaring start. Not to mention the expansion through Her Majesty’s Secret Service in Bristol with partner Ben Alcock. But you’d be wrong... This isn’t just another site for the Cocktail Trading Co. This is the site.
The story of these three bartenders-turned-bar owners has been fast paced. And with so many sites under their collective belt they’re busy boys, making it a challenge to talk to all three at once. However with a bit of luck and a last-minute venue change we managed to sit down with them all at their very first site moments from Oxford Circus.
The first site on Great Marlborough Street
“We never pushed to expand this quickly, it’s been an organic roll out,” says Elliot.
Quick is an apt word, it was only on the 25th November 2014 that the boys announced signing their first site. It opened earlier this year.
However, the process of planning their opening, and other subsequent bars, didn’t happen overnight. This was a venture our three protagonists developed and nurtured over a full year while trying to find a venue.
“Looking for leases is hard in London and we were often offered the scraps left over after the big companies had had the pick of the best. Even once you’ve found a site, Pizza Express might still come in and offer loads more money,” says Andy.
Luck struck and Central & Co offered up their basement. The first Cocktail Trading Co opened to wildly fantastic reviews, including an illustrious five stars from Time Out. The drinks were, and still are, imaginative, ostentatiously presented and great value for money. It’s a rare bar that ticks so many boxes.
“Bristol came as we were starting to break even and it was a good opportunity. As it’s a partnership we don’t have to spend a great deal of time worrying about that site. Smithfield came as a similar arrangement to Soho, we’re underneath another venue,” says Elliot.
The Smithfield venue
And that’s the difference now. Soho and Smithfield are reliant on the businesses above them for the lease. Brink Lane is the first site that Cocktail Trading Co has its own lease for. This is the security any good company needs and the flagship from which to run their business.
The Brand: Cocktail Trading Company
Once you’ve crossed that magical boundary from two venues to a third you’ve officially got a brand. One that needs a mission and an easily recognisable style that goes beyond the material of the bar stools.
“When you say you’re concept-based it sounds wrong,” says Olly. “Concept is a word that has been dragged through the mud a bit. For us it means a unified sense that draws things together. It’s story telling. We try to make each drink a story, not just a joke and a punch line and of course we try to relate the brand to each area we’re working in yet still retain our values.”
Elaborate garnishes and quirky serves keep the drinks fun
Values such as supporting the people living and working in the industry with a cooperative style structure. Staff across the CTC group actually get a cut of profits - making for an ingenious loyalty scheme and hard working bartenders.
To keep things consistent the inside of the bars are quite pubby with dimly-lit corners to nestle in, unshelled peanuts in pint glasses on the tables and comical sketches littering the walls. Organic textures such as leather and wood make the space inviting and warm. Nothing looks too new or polished but rather comfortable and loved.
As for their basement status, it’s naturally attracted the word speakeasy to be thrown about but on the day we came to see them, there were A-boards out front advertising their presence. Hardly secretive.
At the heart of this brand are three of the warmest personalities in the business, all firmly rooted in the industry with backgrounds in some of the best cocktail bars around.
“I still get happy when someone wants to buy one of our drinks,” says Olly. “When I have to organise the booking sheet, which used to be a job I found utterly boring, I get so excited to see how many people want to come to our bar.”
“Olly is the fun one. We send him to be nice to people. Elliot is the brains and numbers. He knows how to spell things correctly,” says Andy. Incidentally, we never did find out which ‘one’ Andy is. Ultimately the three agree that they take care of the brand as a team but work to their individual strengths.
And so, after a year of cumulative successes, the flagship is in production.
It’s a big step for the team. The site is set over two floors with a basement space to play around in, create cocktails and continue with their consultancy work for the likes of the London Eye among other clients. There’s even room for a bar school, which has always been a dream for the three boys.
The outside of venue four near Brink Lane - taken 02/12/15
“We’ve spread out and now we need to dig roots. Brick Lane will hopefully be the site to do that for us,” says Andy.
Ultimately they’re not worried about world domination, whatever rumours you’ve heard. This isn’t the new Be At One any more than it is the new London Cocktail Club. Cocktail Trading Co has become a very distinct brand in it’s own right with quality drinks and excellent service across its venues. And we’re darn pleased they’ve done so well. Luckily it’s only a short wait until Brick Lane launches… see you all at the bar.