Top 50 Cocktail Bars

Lessons for UK cocktail bars from Spain

By Nicholas Robinson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Lessons: how is Spain reopening its hospitality sector?
Lessons: how is Spain reopening its hospitality sector?

Related tags: Top 50 Cocktail Bars, Coronavirus

While the coronavirus pandemic has caused significant headaches for countless businesses across the world, in some ways it has brought sectors closer together. With everyone facing the same challenges, now is the time to learn the challenges other operators in other countries have encountered and how they have overcome those hurdles.

Adriana Chía has an extensive and admirable background in the cocktail bar sector, becoming the first woman to win a prestigious accolade in the trade as well as becoming creative director at one of the top cocktail bars in Barcelona. She is also co-creator of Coca-Cola Signature Mixers Spicy Notes.

In this interview, we find out what Chía has been up to and what she thinks Spain’s cocktail bar scene will look like in the future. 

Top 50 Cocktail Bars 50: How are you right now?

Adriana Chía: ​After more than 50 days of confinement, I can really say that I’ve really adapted to this science fiction movie that we all seem to be living in.

It’s a different situation to anything we’ve ever experienced and, living in Spain, all the restrictions have been very hard until recently, due to the very high case of infections.

But now it seems that, little-by-little, everything is going back to normal-ish, however, in all honesty, I am very worried about the hospitality industry and how it will survive.

T50: We hear that, it’s a very worrying time, before we discuss the ramifications, tell us a little about yourself... 

AC: ​Happy to introduce myself. My name is Adriana Chía, I am 27 and I have been in the hospitality industry for eight years.

While studying graphic design, I looked for a job to help pay for my social life, studies, home... but it took me very little time to realise that what I really liked was being behind the bar instead of in front of a computer.

The biggest challenge was actually telling my mother, after being studying three years of graphic design – hahaha!

One of the first places I worked – that is responsible for my real industry education – was 41° and Tickets from Albert and Ferran Adria, where I worked three years.

In 2016, I became part of the Solange Cocktails & Luxury Spirits team (where I’m now the creative director), one of the top cocktail bars in Barcelona. That same year, I won World Class Spain, being the first woman​ to do so, and entered top eight in the world.

Shortly after, together with Alfredo Pernia, my partner, husband and father of my son, we created Bespoke Mixology Art, a consultancy for bars and hotels with which we work internationally.

In 2017, I joined the Crew as a Royal Bliss ambassador (a Coca-Cola mixer brand). In 2018, I was lucky to be part of the amazing Coca-Cola Signature Mixers project, being one of the co-creators, responsible for creating Signature Mixers 02 Spicy Notes with Pippa Guy.

Now, with the confinement, I have the best full-time job ever, taking care of my 16-month-old baby, 24-hours a day.

Despite the situation, the best thing about confinement is being able to spend more time with my family, after working and travelling so much in the past few years.

T50: We’re glad you’re able to spend this time with your baby. What’s going on in Spain’s bars right now?

AC: ​In Spain, they haven’t given us many options. Since the confinement started, all the bars closed and everyone in the industry focused all their attention on social media and using their channels to stay relevant.

It’s been a positive way to stay in touch with the community and not lose visibility, but it also means everyone stays glued to their screens.

Many cocktail bars in Spain decided to offer takeaway or delivery services, but not in my case.

I don’t know how successful these have been and I’m very sceptical about it. In my opinion, the objective of a bar is to be a destination for people to go to drink, to escape, to socialise. People go in search of the ceremony that the bartender serves you – the ritual of going to have a drink is the magic, which can be lost when you order a cocktail to your home in a vacuum bag and with a straw or a peel that you don't know who has touched.

It’s the same as if you order a delivery from a Michelin-star restaurant (like Ferran Adria) in a box so that you have to plate-up the ingredients yourself.

At the end, it’s easier to have the bottles at home and make your own cocktails.

It’s a complicated situation and we don’t know for sure what the return will be like, but I think that if you open a bar, it’s the experience, for me, of being behind the bar, to be in contact with customers and to have a place where conversations and taste experience happen.

Also, for me, it’s not a solution to have a bartender waiting hours in a closed bar, spending money on light and not knowing if he is going to sell a single cocktail, which means that, maybe, at the end of the day, you’re losing money. It’s not my business model.

T50: How does Spain and the UK compare right now from your conversations with your international bartending network?

AC: ​I haven’t had much contact with people in the UK lately, but it seems that the cocktail delivery services that have launched in the UK have worked, and the initiative was carried out long before us.

I think Spain pays too much attention to what other countries are doing without realising that the result here would probably not be the same.

But hey, this situation has provoked everyone to look for solutions to benefit their businesses in the best way possible. As we usually say in Spain: “Test, error. Test, error.”

T50: What do you think the Spanish bar scene will look like after this?

AC: ​Once we can reopen the bars, we will have to re-educate the Spanish customer. In London, there is already an existing culture of booking a table, here it’s still very difficult to make the customer understand that concept.

For restaurants, it already works this way in Spain, but with bars people are used to going in and out when they feel like it.

This situation, in addition to changing the hygiene of many (or at least I hope so, hahaha!), will also change the habits of the clients, just as they reserve a table from X hour to X hour in a restaurant, they should also do it in a cocktail bar.

It will take time… but we always have to take the positives of everything, and this will probably facilitate a more sustainable business.

From the first day Spain’s hospitality sector opens again, one of the restrictions will be to limit the capacity of bars, and the real problem will be on weekends, which is when there is always a boom in customers wanting to come in and socialise.

We will have to wait and see how everything evolves, how people are feeling and if they want to go out again and the limitations/rules we have to implement. To be continued...

T50: The British Government has been quite helpful for most businesses in the UK, how has the Spanish government supported business there during lockdown?

AC: ​The government has provided the Self-Employed Fee Waiver and a grant of €1,000 per freelancer.

We also have the possibility of having a public credit called ICO. Where the government endorses you up to 80%.

There is also the possibility that the employer avails an ERTE for their workers, in which the worker is as if he were ‘unemployed’ and charged 70/80% of salaries, with the condition that the company, once the activity starts again, has to keep maintaining workers’ salaries for the following six months.

T50: Our business solutions in the UK aren’t perfect, what other Government help in Spain is missing for businesses such as yours?

AC: ​We can ask for a thousand more things, but I think we have to be rational. The government is already ‘giving its arm to twist’ as we say in Spain (‘dándo su brazo a torcer’). In the end, they are paying us with our tax money, if we demand more, we will also have to pay more.

T50: That’s an interesting and rational perspective, what is the earliest date bars in Spain will likely be allowed to reopen?

AC: ​For the return to normality, we have four phases that are not easy to explain.

At the moment there are already bars that can open if they have a terrace – so just if you have a terrace you can serve, you cannot have anyone inside the bar, and they can only serve up to a 30% occupancy.

In the third phase, bars and restaurants can serve indoor and outdoor, but again at 30% occupancy.

The fourth phase is the same, but with a 50% occupancy, and the next step is yet to be announced… we have to see if the people respect these new rules and how everything unfolds.

Related topics: Spirits & Cocktails

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