In the sultry city of Barcelona, its streets lined with trendy and inviting spots, there’s one establishment drawing in every local and passerby, one little word on everyone’s lips: Sips. The marvellous ‘drinkery house’ is the conception of Simone Caporale and Marc Álvarez, two of the world’s leading bartenders whose collaboration lead to one of the most eagerly-awaited openings of the year.
Separately, Marc and Simone ascended to the top of their craft, with Marc heading cocktail selections across six restaurants of Spain’s famous elBarri Group for 8 years, and Simone leading The Artesian in London’s Langham Hotel – named the world’s best bar on several occasions.
Now, they’re out to really shake things up: in everything from its design to its offerings, Sips is far from your average cocktail bar. It’s a stimulation of inspiration and amazement at outstandingly creative presentations, and a sophisticated, buzzing and open-to-all space without a trace of pretension. As evident in the months-long waiting list, a seat at Marc and Simone’s special locale is a coveted thing – of course, anyone could have predicted that.
Tell us how each of you first got into mixology and ended up becoming two of Barcelona’s leading bartenders.
We all started in clubs, washing glassware and doing cleaning duties. Little by little, we got a bit more experience, until we eventually became bartenders.
Sips is a ‘drinkery house’ rather than a cocktail bar – can you describe the difference between the two?
We wanted to open a ‘bar’ where everyone could identify themselves either with a cocktail, a nice wine or a beer. We do love to create cocktails as much as serving good local wines or rare spirits… The bar is a magic place for us.
In what ways does the design of the bar itself emphasize or reflect its primary concept?
We decided that Sips should not have a bar counter, instead an open space, to avoid the creation of any physical barriers between the people who work and those who don’t. Our guests love that, and by doing so, some seats are actually ‘tending the bar’ with the same view of those who would usually be there working behind the bar counter.
You reportedly came up with the idea for Sips in London, where Simone also headed the Artesian for four years. How does the cocktail culture in Barcelona differ from or resemble the one in London?
Barcelona has a very enthusiastic local crowd. Plus the flow of international guests is solid enough to be buzzing. The sea – the city being by the sea – changes the overall energy, it makes things come alive.
Your cocktails display incredible artistry. Are there other art forms you’re particularly inspired by when coming up with your own creations?
Once you love what you do, you’ll see the opportunity to develop it and be creative in many different ways. For this current menu, we got inspired by some personal experiences, travels, geometry, products and the logic behind the question: ‘How am I going to drink it?’
What are the advantages to working in ‘batch mode’ as you do, where multiple bartenders work on a single drink?
There is no better or worse way to execute a cocktail, you'll simply achieve two types of results: drinks that people love and reorder or drinks that people don’t like so much. Batching some ingredients stands for assembling some ingredients that can guarantee a solid consistency of service.
Consistency in the hospitality industry is still something that is sometimes considered sort of optional. The moment you can’t deliver the same great drink at midnight on a Friday as you would do on a quiet Tuesday evening, you are doing something very wrong. Fix it, make it magic and keep it true.
What is the most requested cocktail off the Sips menu? Which receives the biggest reaction?
Our menu has 29 drinks, some of them are signature drinks that we create, others are what we call ‘class-sips’, which consist of 98% of a classic cocktail with 2% Sips philosophy. We can say that most of the guests love to explore the whole menu equally, and this is a very good sign for us… The moment the guest stops exploring means the cocktail offer is not well-thought-out enough.
Each drink is served in glassware handmade by artisans Ferran Collado and José Piñero. What is this collaborative process like and what are the important factors to be considered in these designs?
Ferran and José are long time friends of ours, and we have repeatedly collaborated with them over the last 8 years. We generally make a drawing or a mock-up with wax or playdough, then we share it with them, and that's when the magic happens because they will add their own perspective, experience and artistic touch to it. It's very interesting to see how an initial idea develops into a finished piece that you can drink from.
Where did you first come up with the sleek, retro aesthetic of the Sips brand? Is there a particular feeling you want it to convey?
We were born in the 80s. Back then, we were too small to see it or live it, but nowadays, the general public is attached to that era, no matter if they are 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 years old. At the same time, we wanted to have a timeless space. At a bar, when you feel comfortable, time stops… That’s the feeling we are aiming for basically.
How would you explain your profession to a child?
A very responsible and serious job, where you’ll meet interesting people, you'll learn what ‘real taste’ is like, and the history behind the bar is way more interesting than what you have been taught at school.
If you could change the world right now, what would you do?
I would change the responsibilities of those with privileges, starting with us, the bartenders. We are privileged to do the profession we love and have always dreamed of doing. You must be grateful every day, doing what you can to leave a better place than what you have found.
From what or who do you draw your greatest inspiration?
A long time ago, I was just inspired by other bartenders or chefs, which is a good inspiration, but if you want to go really far in your creativity you need to open your mind to other disciplines, try to understand how other unrelated worlds work and then apply new ideas to the bar.
How would you define your guiding principle(s)?
Our own DNA is our guide to understand the brand “Sips” and then apply it in all different aspects. Creating a “brand” is the key to success. Without it, you can lose your identity and you might even copy others.
You’ve said your upcoming bar Esencia will be more ‘extreme’ and ‘avant-garde’. Can you give us a taste of what we can expect?
At the drinkery house we do have a menu with wines, cocktails, beers and spirits, and you choose what you feel you identify with. At Esencia, you’ll have to trust us, as we will read your expectations and arrange them over a rollercoaster of flavours.
It was our pleasure to pull up a seat at Sips to chat with Simone and Marc, and we can’t wait to visit them again soon – this time at Esencia, to taste their new collection of exciting creations.