"I had an ostentatious way of cutting my pours back then that ended up with a bottle flying across the bar straight into the side of a chaps head!"
Merlin Griffiths has been a bartender and mixologist for over 20 years. As well as featuring on Channel 4’s First Dates he owns his own pub and restaurant, the Priory Tavern, in Kilburn.
Merlin, what's the secret to a great cocktail?
Go easy on the sweet stuff, use fresh citrus, look for balance of flavour and make every drink with love.
What is your most popular cocktail?
Cocktails come and go with various trends but certain classics will always persist, hence the “classic” moniker. Currently it seems everyone wants an Aperol Spritz, Frozen Rosé (aka Frosé) or those that know a Garibaldi made the Café Dante NYC way.
If you could make a cocktail which represents yourself, what would it be?
The sensible choice for a bartender my age is really an Old Fashioned! However, I’d take it with rum not bourbon.
What are some cocktail trends you’re seeing right now?
As well as the drinks I’ve mentioned above I’m finding a definite shift to longer drinks with a lower abv%. “Session Cocktails” you could call them. Remembering Dorothy Parker, “One Martini, two at the most…” I’m reminded that the majority of classic cocktails tend to be quite strong. So this is where a longer, lighter drink using vermouth, sherry or amaro can fit in. Try a simple Rebujito for instance.
If you could share a drink with anyone who would it be, what would you drink and where would you drink it?
A bottle of JD with Keith Richards round his house perhaps? Hopefully I’d pick up some tips to improve my shoddy guitar playing!
Most memorable guest at the First Dates bar?
Series 4, Episode 5 is certainly one that stands out. People joke about bartenders getting picked up by guests at work, but this happened to me… Literally!
Meet Lucy, the weightlifter - http://www.channel4.com/programmes/first-dates/on-demand/61921-002
If you could make a drink for any celebrity or famous fictional character, what drink would it be and who would it be for?
Caucasians and some bowling with Jeff Daniels “The Dude”.
What's the best bar you've ever visited?
There are several that stand out over the years, Artesian at The Langham Hotel, London back when Alex Kratena was manning the ship; Tender Bar, Ginza, Tokyo for Kazuo Uyeda, an amazing experience with a level of service only the Japanese can offer; Just about anywhere in Vancouver as it’s an awesome city with a great cocktail scene, find Shaun Layton at the Juniper Kitchen & Bar for staggeringly good gin cocktails. The best? The one that was open and that matched the moment.
Choose a drink to represent each of your colleagues on First Dates (Fred, Cici, Laura, Austin & Sam)?
Fred – a top shelf vintage Champagne, what else?! Specifically a 1982 Salon from Le Mesnil I think.
Cici – a Southside Fizz, served long over cracked ice rather than up. Fresh and lively.
Laura – a glass of water, Solan de Cabras as she’s just passed her Paramedic training.
Austin – he’s already confessed to being a fan of an Espresso Martini, so that.
Sam – a Mexican El Diablo, Trader Vic’s 1946 recipe. ‘Cause he’s a little devil!
What is the most unusual drink request you've ever received? Did you make it?
Suffice it to say it was pretty unusual, but I can’t tell you more as it hasn’t yet been aired. Keep watching and see if you spot it…
Have you ever spilt a drink over someone important or had any memorable/embarrassing drink related disasters?
One of the worst was as a young bartender in Leicester Square. I had an ostentatious way of cutting my pours back then that ended up with a bottle flying across the bar straight into the side of a chaps head! He was remarkably cool about it all, but it still cost me all my tips and more in reparations. Lesson learnt.
We’re stood at a bustling bar and have been waiting for over 10 minutes to be served. Is there any secret to attracting a bartender’s attention?
If you’ve not been acknowledged by your bartender after 10 minutes at the bar then you’re in the wrong place. Even if there’s a 10 minute or more service wait time your bartender should at the very least make eye contact to acknowledge you’re waiting. Customer time is triple regular time when waiting and 10 minutes can feel like half an hour!
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