Whenever BarLifeUK visit Brighton, we have the same conversation on the train back to London: Why don’t we move the office down here?
There’s something about being by the sea that lowers the blood pressure somewhat, and this coupled with Brighton’s bohemian leanings and wealth of tattoo parlors make it the perfect destination for the travelling bartender.
And so BarLifeUK jumped on a train with Jose Cuervo Tradicional Ambassador, Tim Homewood, to explore the town’s bars and provide you with a ready-made cocktail safari route.
We made the day’s first stop at The Pull and Pump (1-2 Clarence Gardens, BN1 2EG).
Regular readers of BarLifeUK will know that we have a huge soft spot for Notting Hill’s Trailer Happiness.
Thusly, we were very keen to see the Pull and Pump, because ex-Trailer honcho Rikki Brodrick is now running it.
The Pump, as we affectionately began calling it, is a small, dark wood paneled boozer slightly off the beaten track but also very close to Brighton’s center. It has some lovely ales on tap, and looks every part the ‘old Sussex pub’.
However, Rikki has not been idle since talking over, and the back bar is now home to nearly 70 different tequilas.
We settled down for a beer, shot of Tradicional and a nip of Sangrita and chewed the fat with Rikki for a while – There are some major refurbishments on the cards for the Pump, and before long a range of 50 bottled beers will accompany the impressive tequila selection.
Summary – The Pull and Pump is a brilliant place to lose an afternoon working your way through Mexico’s finest. Rikki has forgotten more than most people will ever know about tequila, so you will be in good hands. You’ll find a pleasing mix of people there too – Look out for the lovely Rose who has been a regular for 57 years.
Merkaba Bar (17 Jubilee Street, Brighton BN1 1GE) presents a compete change of pace to The Pull and Pump.
Found on the ground floor of the boutique-y MyHotel, it looks a little like the inside of Barbarella’s space ship, but with added fish tanks.
Merkaba is probably Brighton’s answer to the Artesian bar, in so much as it is a hotel bar frequented by well-healed drinkers enjoying some of the best cocktails in the city.
However, while being a little pricy for Brighton, Merkaba’s cocktails are cheaper than you’d usually find in Shoreditch, all a stone’s throw from the sea.
Rafal Shibbi, a bartender we’ve met many times at cocktail competitions, took a bottle of Tradicional behind the bar and came up with this drink for us:
- 35ml Jose Cuervo tradicional
- 20ml Crème de Banana
- 10ml Benedictine
- 20ml Lemon juice
- Dash Peychaud’s bitters
Summary – Brighton has two sides, one is posh and glossy, the other is altogether more bohemian. Merkaba is very much the former, the place to wear your good shoes before trashing them on the beach. Expect classics, twists and hotel bar service.
Bar Valentino (7A New Road, BN1 1US)
Bar Valentino is a small joint above a Mexican restaurant which has ‘date venue’ written all over it. Its biggest attraction is a large bay window and balcony overlooking one of the center of Brighton’s posher shopping streets.
During our Wednesday evening visit, the low tables were mostly occupied by smooching couples (and one old man with a very large, red nose) and if you are visiting Brighton with your significant other, Bar Valentino is probably a good place for a little dreamy-eye-staring.
However, the place comes into its own for sundowners on the balcony on a warm evening.
Summary – Get there early enough to score a table on the balcony for drinks while watching the beautiful people of Brighton spending their money. An ideal place for post-shopping gin and tonics.
Black Dove (74 Saint James’s Street, BN2 1PA)
Black Dove is a brilliant mix of bar and boozer, the quirky kind of venue you would love to have as your local. The back bar is impressive and they also have an excellent beer selection, which includes Brooklyn Lager on tap.
Downstairs is a beautiful snug which looks a bit like the Captain’s quarters of a pirate’s galleon had it been decorated by a an exuberant sultan.
The bar staff were excellent too, providing great service and also very happy to talk to us about all things drinks and where to go as our night progressed.
Summary – Black Dove is a proper bartenders hangout. They have enough spirits on the back bar to keep you sipping, and the beers are interesting and well kept. If there’s just a few of you, sit at the bar and get to know the guys. If you are ‘rolling deep’, book the snug and never leave.
Saint James (16 Madeira Place, BN2 1TN).
Saint James is a rum pub, which sounds like just about the best idea in the world. They stock over 60 rums and have a cocktail list which covers all the cane classics, with just a hint of tiki.
While the rum selection is excellent, the cocktails were a little hit and miss, with the bartenders needing to consult specs as they made our drinks. This is of course not a problem per se, but be aware that Saint James is a pub that stocks lots of rum, as opposed to Trailer Happiness, and you will enjoy your time there.
Summary – Really good music in the Mojo Bar vein, with a great rum selection and student-y crowd. Have a beer and a shot or order a sipping rum.
Audio (10 Marine Parade, BN2 1TL)
Audio has been one of Brighton’s cocktail mainstays since 2004. It is big and loud, straddling the boundary between bar and club, and is the kind of place you will want to end the night if you are of the dancing and pulling persuasion.
Audio is probably the biggest bar in Brighton, and the staff are used to smashing out drinks to huge crowds, so you wont have to wait long for your cocktails.
Benjamin Ringwood was on duty when we visited, and he knocked us up this drink with the bottle of Tradicional that Tim Homewood always keeps about his person:
- 50ml Jose Cuervo Tradicional
- 25ml Lime juice
- 15ml Agave syrup
- 10 Muddled cardamom seeds
- 25ml Fresh pineapple juice
Summary – Either pre-club or instead-of-club, Audio is your place for drinking and dancing. BarLifeUK are so old, should we try to describe the music genre, we’ll get it wrong. But suffice it to say you will probably end up sweaty and in love. Audio has a large, outside area which is brilliant in Summer.
While You’re There
Courtesy of Rikki Brodrick, we found an absolute hidden gem in Brighton’s back streets.
The Marwood Café (52 Ship Street, BN1 1AF) sprawls over three floors of the old Post Office building and a huge walled garden, and we guarantee you will get trapped there.
Inside, the place consists of a collection of rooms kitted out with the best possible kinds of random crap. A mural of Boba Fett stands guard at the bottom of the stairs, and some excellent street art can be found on the walls of the garden.
While we’ve seen this sort of thing before, particularly in East London and Manchester’s Northern Quarter, it doesn’t feel forced or fake. If you’ve been to Melbourne, you will know exactly the kind of place we are trying to describe.
The coffee is epic, and while we didn’t eat there, reports suggest the food lives up to their brews. Next time you go to Brighton, The Marwood is an absolute must visit.
Summary – A quiet, secluded garden in the middle of Brighton, with awesome coffee and a discerning crowd. Have lunch here or eat your hangover away. Whichever it is, just go.
JB’s American Diner (31 King’s Road, BN1 1NR)
JB’s wasn’t on our radar at all until we walked past it on our way to the hotel. It is exactly as is sounds, all red vinyl booths and waitresses in bobby skirts.
If you are hungover, the assault of Americana on your senses might be a bit much, but they serve some mean eggs. And there is something strangely satisfying about ordering a coke and sitting in a booth for anyone who enjoys the works of Quentin Tarantino.
Summary – Cokes, floats, milkshakes and pancakes. Everything you need for breakfast, plus lashings of maple syrup.
Brighton in a Nutshell
Brighton is by the sea, which means you can eat fish and chips while playing arcade games on the pier.
If that were not enough, there are dozens of bars and great pubs all within walking distance of the train station and the sea front, and there are scores of hotels offering cheap as chips accommodation. Add that to the bohemian Lanes area, and it would seem criminal not to spend at least one night down there next time you have a day off and a few bob in your pocket.
We found Brighton’s bartenders to be very friendly and welcoming, so go and see your Sussex brethren soon. Summer will be here before you know it.
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