Fare Bar and Canteen

26 Apr. 2019
Marcis Dzelzainis on his latest project

There once was a time when bars served drinks, preferably good ones. And then, there was a time when good drinks weren’t enough anymore: you had to have a concept. You had to be able to pitch a bar in a few words. Those days are not gone but, fortunately, most pitches we get to hear are very similar: accessible cocktails, fairly priced, and great hospitality. In layman terms: a good bar, plain and simple. There’s no doubt that, if you ask PR people, Fare Bar and Canteen, the latest venture of Michael Sager and Marcis Dzelzainis, is a concept bar: it’s got tap cocktails and it’s open all day! But, as a recent visit showed us, there’s nothing gimmicky: it’s a great spot, plain and simple.

« The idea was to look at how an all day sort of café — quite a European concept — would apply to a British high street », Marcis, the 2010 Havana Club Grand Prix winner, told us. Fare is quite big and spread over two floors. « Upstairs, we have this all-day pizza bar, we have cocktails on draft, we have a very, very strong coffee program overseen by Assembly, an amazing roastery down in Brixton… We’ve really tried to make it light, airy, accessible, we’ve really focused on value for money ». Their afternoon £10 pizza-Negroni combo is indeed hard to beat, and the tap cocktails are very fairly priced — a must if you have to pay rent in a big venue in central-ish London. For a finer dining setting, the downstairs area offers a straighter restaurant experience mixing French and Italian influences, with « a different approach to the drinks, all made on site, à la minute. They’re interesting drinks: they play quite a lot on food, some kitchen elements, unusual flavours, gastronomic influence and incorporate them to the drink »

In a way, Fare’s drink program can be seen as the culmination of Marcis’ career so far. From 69 Colebrooke Row to Dandelyan, the cocktails have always been about sophisticated, modernist process put at the service of rather simple serves —as a patron, you had to ask if you wanted to know what was going on. At Satan’s Whiskers, it was all about flavourful, accessible drinks in a fun atmosphere. And Sager + Wilde Paradise Row was where Marcis culinary influences were finally matched with exquisite food. Fare takes a bit of all of them — you get house-made hydrosoles and a lot of lab work, recognisable classics and very, very fast service in a convivial atmosphere.

The central fixture of the ground floor space is the row of taps. Beer, wine and cocktails (ten of them) are all served this way (although you can also order a selection of slightly more expensive mixed drinks made to order). A lot of the success of cocktail bars over the last ten years was linked to the romanticism of the silver shaker or the trident-shaped bar spoon effortlessly moving ice diamonds in crystal decanters. Tap cocktails seem to go counter all that, but Marcis had no doubt Londoners would take to them. « People in the UK are coming from a pub culture and they have really taken to the idea of drinking cocktails on draft », he said. The tap cocktails « consistently » outsell their à la minute offerings, he also told us. « The idea was to challenge the notion that you lose any kind of quality or that tap cocktails are less interesting than drinks made à la minute ». He was certainly successful: the Rum + Coconut, a Havana Club 3 años-based clarified Piña Colada twist with verjus and lemongrass hydrosole, was as good as any ‘regular’ shaken drink we had on our last London visit.

Although a few people are working on tap systems for high volume bars, Marcis decided to go alone and developed it from scratch. « It’s been a really interesting process learning how to use tap systems. It’s probably quite unique, I don’t think anywhere else I’ve seen doing it the way we do », he said. « The Espresso Martini was particularly challenging —you have to have that intense coffee flavour but also get it foamy and make the foam stable », Marcis explained. Because not every cocktail needs to be carbonated the same way — a Spritz doesn’t need a big head of foam — Marcis uses three different type of gases. If it sounds very complex, it’s because it is. But customers are none the wiser — they just get to enjoy great drinks served in a fraction of the time of normal cocktails and sold at a discount — and the system opens business opportunities: « I’m looking forward for bartenders to get involved and develop keg cocktails that we can sell to people ». It’s very much a win-win situation, and we’re pretty sure Fare is setting a new standard.

Photo credit: https://farelondon.com

François Monti