Alex Spencer is Bar Manager at Kensington’s super sexy, Blakes Below. Situated in the very belly of one of the world’s first luxury boutique hotel, going for a drink is drink in Alex’s bar is one of the best bar experiences in town. Designed by Anouska Hempel, Blakes is a decadent place that’s celebrating its 40th birthday so we thought we’d ask Alex what was going on.
What’s your secret for dealing with unruly customers?
I wouldn’t say unruly… at the end of the day we’ve all been, there haven’t we!? Had a tipple too many once or twice? And all we want is to have a good time. When our guests realise that we’re only trying to help them and understand the situation they generally calm down. Just treat people as you would like to be treated.
Didn’t you personally design a new gin for this year’s Blakes 40th anniversary? That must have been fun.
Yes that was a lot of fun – well the parts I can remember. My General Manager went in with a clear vision of what we wished to achieve and with the help of the guys at Portobello Road Distillery came out with a truly amazing gin. Learning about the process of making gin was great but tasting all the different distillates of gins was a lot of fun… I think!
What other celebrations do you have up your sleeve?
We love naughtiness at Blakes. And trust me – we’ve seen it all! We procure bespoke events that each and every one of our amazing guests request. But we also throw our own quirky parties. Coming up we’ve got our Halloween Horror Movie Party. From creepy cocktails, spooky specials, and make-up to go with the theme…
If a guest sat down at your bar and said they wanted to drink a different cocktail, each complementing the last for an evening. What would you suggest?
As we move into winter first I would start with something warming to get them to relax, such as our Behind Closed Doors cocktail, which is a twist on an Old Fashioned made with Hibikki Whisky. We would then move onto something a little lighter such as our @33 cocktail; made with our own Blakes Gin, cucumber and apple. Then I would go for our Berry Smash, again made with Blakes Gin, kumquats, cape gooseberry, raspberry and apples. To finish I would serve a deep, dark luxurious cocktail such as our BB Martini made with Diplomatico Rum, vanilla syrup, chocolate liquor and fresh rich espresso.
Hotel bars have certainly got rid of their stuffy reputation over the last few years and are consistently winning best bar trophies – what was the sea change in that do you think?
Well, we’re not a hotel bar, we’re a bar… in a hotel! And well, Blakes isn’t any old hotel, that is a certainty. For me, hotels have always been the epitome of hospitality and none so much as Blakes, borne from the concept of inviting friends to your own home. Ian Shrager was the first to create the destination bar. People used to just go to the hotel bar as it was there but now hotels are a place to be and be seen, party and at Blakes… all behind closed doors.
Interview: Josh Jones