How many bartenders have started working over 40 years ago and are still relevant today? Chris Edwardes is one of them and he doesn’t need to call himself Maestro to prove his point. After a few years in Ibiza, where he and his wife Amanda run Hidden, a bar / restaurant / mini-golf course that set new standards for cocktails on the island, they’ve recently embarked on their latest adventure and are about to open Hidden House, a guesthouse in Croatia. Always a gent, Chris was very happy to talk to BarNews about his career.
You’ve been around the block once or twice. The cocktail scene changed quite a bit over the years. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly?
The Good: The cocktail industry has become truly global and the information and training available to bartenders today is world apart from when I first started, there is a great community within that industry and hundreds of amazing bars and bartenders.
The Bad: Like any successful industry there are unfortunately a few to many people who swan around thinking they are very special, these are invariable the ones who are not.
The Ugly: Because of the knowledge and training there is quite a large section of our industry that has become so obsessed with the image they portray within the industry they have forgotten about the customer. People are frowned upon and sniggered at if they don't order a sufficiently fashionable drink or don’t have sufficient knowledge to understand what they are ordering. It is our job to give the customer what they want and to educate them and make them feel special, not to put them down and belittle them.
I’ve read your career started with a little lie…
My first bar job was for an American company called the Chicago Pizza Pie Factory, this was in 1975 and I was 17, I lied about my age. It was a great company to work for in terms of training and very much laid the foundations for my passion for service. I then moved to London and got a job at a bar called Maxwells in Covent Garden, they had a couple of hundred cocktails on the list and it was packed with people queuing down the street from 5 until 1am. This is where I learned my trade under a guy called Mike, great bartender, great character.
You’ve worked at some iconic bars. What were the important places and people in your career?
After working in Bristol and Bath for a while, I returned to London to open the Jazz Cafe and then moved to The Groucho Club as head bartender, where I first met Dick Bradsell, who had just opened Fred’s. We became friends and were then both headhunted to open the Atlantic Bar. We were also both involved at different times in Damien Hirst’s Pharmacy Bar. Then I opened the G.E. Club at the Great Eastern Hotel on Liverpool St in 1998, it was the first hip watering hole in the east right at the beginning of the Shoreditch revolution. By this time I had met Amanda who is the single most important influence on my career because together we find inspiration and creativity that didn’t surface before. We moved to Brighton in 2000 and opened a 12-bedroom boutique hotel with a 32 cover restaurant and cocktail bar called Blanch House. I really had the opportunity to be creative – we were using olive oil in drinks, or infusing spirits with bacon and salmon in 2003-2004… Blanch developed a reputation for its cocktails, food, rooms and service very quickly. We won many awards.
Ibiza, where you opened Hidden Bar, must have been quite a change of pace.
Towards the end of our time in Brighton my focus had moved to developing my own products and so Ibiza was the perfect place to refine this. I went there to open a venue called Aura. I ran the bars for the first summer and had time to work on my own projects in the winter whilst traveling globally judging competitions and continuing to do consultancy. We discovered Hidden while walking the dog, it was a jungle but the perfect project for us, it was really hard work getting it open. I don't think there will ever really be a change of pace for me, there is always some hare-brained scheme going on… …
and now Croatia. We bought a house here 12 years ago and it is now habitable so the idea is to run it as a little boutique bed and breakfast (4 rooms) and to develop our training and consultancy business (Blanch Edwardes Consulting). And just to ensure that I don't have too much time to think, we have bought a 5000 square meter plot of forest land where we aim to build an eco house, a bar/training school/ small distillery and grow our own vegetables and botanicals. If that isn’t enough to keep me occupied I am looking at getting involved with a couple of cocktail bar projects in Split and on the island and making and producing a Croatian Gin and a Croatian Vermouth whilst trying to get my tequila vermouth into production. Then there’s the range of bar equipment, the shirts and hats and of course the book. Oh, and the new book idea….
No early retirement for Chris, then. Hidden House is located in the town of Stari Grad on the island of Hvar. The website hidden-house.com will be up and running soon. Doors will open over the Easter weekend, and although there’s no bar, Chris will be running cocktail schools for his guests. Maybe you’ll learn how to make a Hola (Aloha Remix) :
HOLA (ALOHA REMIX)
25ml Cherry Infused Havana Club 3 años
25ml Havana 7 años
12.5ml Luxardo Cherry Liqueur
20ml fresh lime juice
20ml fresh orange juice
12.5ml rose syrup
2 dashes of Chocolate Bitters Blend all ingredients with crushed ice for 5 seconds and then dump into a Tiki bowl.