Bars come and go in Brighton. Part of the challenge of opening an establishment in our busy seaside town is the shear amount of competition that is just a stone’s throw away from your own. Get it right, however, and you’ve achieved something that, while in most cities in the world is demanding, in Brighton is harder than cooking for your in-laws AND liking Donald Trump put together! So when a bar makes it past not just the 5yr milestone, or even the 10yr, but weighs in at a hefty 15yrs of faithful service to the thirsty patrons of the BN1 postcode…you know it’s something to be proud of. Koba, on Western Road, has done just that and we caught up with Founder and Director, Jake Kempston, to check out their latest refurbishment.
Born in 2001, Koba has been featured in books, magazines and seen many newbie bartenders blossom into comp-killing machines. While getting a full make-over every 5yrs, this last one has taken a whole year to complete! “There were a number of nerve-wracking moments, and we very nearly didn’t make it. I think my bank manager used to drink at KOBA in the early days, and couldn’t bear to see it close. He’s as mad as I am.” Jake explains. “We decided to go back to our boutique roots and concentrate on what we do best – so we’re now a smaller, more intimate venue, set over two floors, serving locally roasted coffee by day and carefully crafted botanical cocktails by night, with our first-floor VIP Lounge hosting private parties, with a late license.” Koba sets up it’s small 5 table pavement terrace and opens at an eye-watering 8am, serving the usual cafe delights. As well as this, it’s clearly keeping up with current drinking trends too serving cold brew coffee and craft beer during the day and shaking drinks in the evening from a modest 6 drink blackboard menu, including its signature ‘botanical’ cocktails, which are evident in the dill & raspberry long drink using Gin and a twist on a Bourbon sour mixing black cherry & basil, both at a reasonable £7.50 may I say. The decor is classic ‘old Koba’ as well with tiled walls, mosaic mirror art and tropical plant wall paper. Layout wise, the guests are now greeted with a wooden staircase leading up to the bathrooms and 1st floor bar and, most notably, both restaurant areas are now gone!
After being open 8 weeks now, it’s not simply sitting back and waiting for the crowds. The upstairs was being used for an English speaking and learning evening when I was there and it was inspiring to see it looking so busy mid-week. Let’s hope that Koba remains a firm institution on the Sussex coastline and fingers crossed we will be celebrating the magic 20yr mark! Hashtag double decade!
Brighton Bar Awards
Last year the Facebook group known as the Brighton Bartenders Association, or BNBA, decided to crank up the annual hospitality industry party with something that would be looked forward to by the hard-working bar staff from miles around – It was dubbed ‘The Brighton Bar Awards’. After lots of frowning and scratching heads over whether or not this would be a complete flop, what actually followed was an overwhelming confidence in exactly why it is such a privilege to be a part of this magnificent and unique bar scene here in Brighton. So when the hangovers had been cured, the organisers had to contemplate if it was worth doing it again and the drop of a hipster flat cap hat, they were put to work again. This time with the task of orchestrating the ultimate celebration of shaking & stirring talent, by planning…drum roll… ‘The Brighton Bar Awards 2016’!
Not only did bartenders, bar managers, drinks reps, brand ambassadors, baristas and master chefs all come to celebrate Brighton’s crème-de-la-crème getting rewarded for all their hard work over the last 365 days, but the general public also came to cheer for the people on the other side of their local bar. There were over 20 awards to be handed out, each with a highly sought-after prize kindly donated by some of Brighton’s favourite drinks brands. Not one to say no to a bit of light comedy, the BNBA included such prizes as ‘Best Banter‘ and ‘The Know-It-All’ award! But amongst the laughter, there was a creative selection of more well-deserved awards, such as ‘The Moët & Chandon Best Restaurant Bar‘ award won by Plateau, there was ‘The Elements 8 Rum Best Hotel Bar‘ award taken by The Artist Residence Hotel’s ‘The Cocktail Shack’ on Regency Square and ‘The Blackdown Spirits Best Pub’ award, which had some stiff competition but was pipped-to-the-post by The Hobgoblin on London Road. ‘The Godfather‘ award for longstanding achievement in the Brighton bar scene was snapped up by ex-Bar Valentino manager Paul de Newtown and ‘The Villa Lobos Best Bar Manager Award‘ was very rightly handed to The Plotting Parlour’s Luke Loddo. Celebrations and commiserations filled the air but as the prize table started to get emptier, however, the crowd’s anticipation grew and all eyes were on the last few awards. Amongst them was ‘The Jenson’s Gin Best Bar Award’ and of course, the final two awards for the evening; the ‘Jack Daniels Best Male Bartender and Best Female Bartender’! The most successful establishment of the night this year had to be The Plotting Parlour, who not only picked up Best Bar Manager, but also the Best Bar Award and Best Male Bartender with Jake Goldstein, as well Best newcomer AND (naturally) ‘Best Bar Team‘ sponsored by Brighton Bier! The Best Female Bartender was apparently, after the votes had been counted, the closest out of all the categories between the three nominees, which were Lauren Shaw of The Cocktail Shack and Elaine Larkin of Bar Valentino, but, by a hair’s breadth, this year was awarded to Kat Shute from Be At One.
Not just an amazing night but an amazing year and, thanks to the skills, passion and motivation behind the bars of this city, The Brighton Bar Awards looks set to become one of the biggest, most successful, topical, unashamed and down-right rock & roll Bar Award ceremonies in the entire United Kingdom. Yes, indeed, Brighton does it best!
A famous man once said ‘geeks are cool!’ And it’s true; for without them we would not have leading pioneers in our chosen field! We would not have entrepreneurs that push the boundaries of what’s possible! Nor would we have the IT Crowd, Big Bang Theory or Comic Con. Whatever line of work or hobby one pursues, there will always be one mighty soul that takes time to actually know their sh*t and none more so than in the bar world. Geeky bartenders, I salute you! One such drinks company, which goes by the name of Instil, specialises in sourcing such quality beverages, instead of merely going with the flow and accepting what other people have told them is ‘good’. Two weeks ago, Instil descended upon one of Brighton’s favourite secret watering holes and showcased their talent in finding the geekiest selection of tipples this town has to offer!
Organic Gin, Cucumber Vodka, and ‘MezcalGin’, and a whole plethora of others were all neatly lined up on the Bar Valentino bar top as geeky bartenders and drinks enthusiasts started turning up from all over Sussex. As the Vals staff finished filling everyone’s glasses with water…lots of water, and spittoons…the Instil Take-over was about to begin! Our hosts for the event were Michele Tuveri and Alberto Ladu, two guys very well equipped to talk about and answer questions on the nitty gritty of producing (and tasting!) booze. First up was their organic range; This featured and Vodka, Gin and Cucumber Gin, which kicked the proverbial out of any other Cucumber spirits out there! Moving down the line, some beers and ciders got a look in too. Clearly not a company to fall behind on the current drinking trends, Instil also had some very tasty American craft beers on offer as well as a quirky French swing-top Cider. Rums and Agave drinks were the most anticipated poisons in this vast selection though – three Rums and four Tequilas of varying ex-Bourbon Barrel ages were all showcased. But the star of the show had to be their very unique MezcalGin. Branded ‘MG’, as is written on the light blue, square-ish bottle, this 45%ABV spirit is made of a Mezcal Joven and handcrafted in small batches in Mexico. “It tastes more like a smokey Gin, rather than a Juniper-y Mezcal” advises Alberto. “It makes a killer Bramble! I’ll show you later!” He explains, as he informs of his guest bartending in Vals that night. One Scottish dark Rum and a French Elderflower liqueur later and the tasting is finishes while Bar Valentino opens its discrete doors to the public and we are treated to some modestly priced Instil cocktails and beers to enjoy throughout the evening.
Well done to Instil and thank you to Alberto, Michele and the Vals staff for putting on another cracking tasting and learning session for the people who keep Brighton filled to the gills with liquids that revive your curiosity as to what is actually inside your glass! See you next time…