The BarLifeUK interview tour heads North, as we speak to Lucy Richmond of Tippling House to find out what’s happening in Aberdeen.
Having never visited Aberdeen, I did some research by way of watching Amazon Prime’s recent drama, The Rig, in the hope it might offer a glimpse of the city. Turns out, The Rig’s characters say ‘Aberdeen’ quite a lot, but never actually go there. It’s also the worst TV show I’ve seen this year, narrowly beating Willow for that title, so it’s best avoided unless you enjoy terrible CGI, wooden dialogue, and incomprehensible plot lines. I have no idea why I’m still talking about it to be honest, so let’s get on with the interview…
BLUK: Hello Lucy. Before we talk about Aberdeen, can you tell us a bit about your bartending history?
LR: My first bar job was at Siberia Bar and Hotel on Belmont Street, it was at the end of 2018 and I was still at Uni, doing business management. I was there a couple of months and then ended up moving over to a cocktail bar and doing two years. That’s where I did the process of bar-backing, working the floor, and then making classic cocktails. I feel like that’s where I really came out of my shell in working in hospitality. That was also when Covid hit, when I was in my second year there, and there was was a new venture opening up at Shiprow Village, the Workshop Ivy Lodge, so I took a management position there. And now I am working at Tippling House.
BLUK: I’ve heard very good things about Tippling House, what sort of bar is it?
LR: We’re a late-night cocktail bar that’s perfect for individual drinkers to come in and sit at the bar and chat to the bartenders, as soon as you walk in, you feel like you are coming into a nice wee home. But we’ve also got plenty of booths for groups to come in and enjoy the menu and off-menu cocktails as well. There’s food up until 11 and late night snacks past 11, it’s a good spot for bartenders to come in when they’ve finished work because we are one of the few that’s open to 3am at the weekends. The range of whiskies we’ve got at Tippling, some of them I hadn’t even heard of before I started, so it’s a great spot of whisky fans.
BLUK: I’ve never been to Aberdeen and don’t have a mental image of it, can you describe the city and how the cocktail scene sits within in?
LR: There’s so much to see in Aberdeen. You’ve obviously got the beach front, along there you’ve got lots of food trucks, cafes, and restaurants. And when you walk up from the beach you get to Union Street, where you’d be at Castlegate, down there you’ve got great cocktail places like The Workshop… The Shiprow Village, when I first moved to Aberdeen, I never went down there as it wasn’t well-lit and I didn’t enjoy it. But if you go down to Shiprow Village now, there’s The Craftsmen, Ivy Lodge, The Workshop, lots of different food places. If you are walking to town from the beach, that’s the first place you will hit. Then when you get onto Union Street, there are so many different places for food and drink, it just depends what you fancy. You can either pop into a few pubs, or you’ve got student-y bars like Siberia and Resident X… Aberdeen is a lot smaller than Edinburgh, you could probably walk from the beach to the other end of town in twenty minutes, so because of the smaller size, if you are doing a night out you will probably do all of the stops along Union Street, rather than just sticking to one end.
BLUK: Where would you send a hungry visiting bartender?
LR: There are some great food trucks on beach. And there are a lot of independent food places just off Union Street, Cafe Harmony is probably my favourite place to go, it does really yummy pastas and Mediterranean food, and they also do nice classic cocktails. Great service because the people are all so lovely.
BLUK: Tippling House is very well known for its cocktails, so what sort of guests do you typically serve?
LR: It ranges, all ages. You do get young folk coming in, wanting to try a couple of drinks. And we also get other folk who are there to have good food, they might only be coming out once every two weeks, but when they are out they tend to spend quite a bit of money. But you do also get folk who just pop in, maybe on their way home from somewhere, we do see the same faces each week which is quite nice. We do also get a lot of tourists come through, especially in the Summer and just before Christmas.
BLUK: I think of the oil industry being based in Aberdeen. Do you get lots of oil big-wigs coming through?
LR: I only moved to Aberdeen in 2018, so I missed the oil boom. But I’d say you do get companies, especially at Christmas time, booking out venues for their events and client dinners. We do still get that, but I can’t compare it to what it was like during the oil boom.
BLUK: Whisky is obviously a huge part of Scotland’s hospitality culture, do you think that has any impact on the low-and-no ABV trend that is supposedly growing at the moment?
LR: I’d say we do get more people ordering non-alcoholic drinks than we did before Covid. Not so much alcohol-free beers, but because customers know we can make a drink to their tastes, they do sometimes ask if we can use something like Seedlip instead.
BLUK: Speaking of Covid lockdowns, when you were on furlough, did it ever occur to you to leave hospitality and do something else?
LR: I was till at Uni at the time, so I wasn’t really thinking about doing something else, but I did decide I wanted to mix things up a bit and that’s why I moved down to Shiprow instead. When we did open up again, after spending so much time on my own, being in the flat, it was so nice to get back to work and customer service, that’s when I knew I really enjoyed hospitality.
BLUK: You were studying business at university, what made you switch over to hospitality?
LR: I just fell in love with it. I feel like hospitality brought me out of my shell, and it slowly became not just a uni job. It slowly became something I was interested in, and I like the fact that every day is different. With Aberdeen being such a small community, where everyone knows each other, it meant through Covid I was doing cover shifts with all my friends in different bars which was fun. And I’ve been working with the National Whisky Festival this last year, travelling all round Scotland. Getting the opportunity to do things like that definitely got me stuck in the industry.
BLUK: If a bartender comes into your bar and asks you to make a drink you love, what would you make them?
LR: Oh, that’s a big question. Well, Aberdeen as whole, we absolutely love Negronis. But if it was a drink I was making up, it would be a little bit of a twist on a Scorpion. It’s nice and juicy, it’s got orange, orgeat, brandy, rum, lime, and orange bitters. Honestly, when I drink it myself I think it’s bloody delicious! Someone asked me what the name of it is yesterday, but I’ve still not come up with one.
BLUK: So if a group of out-of-town bartenders come for a visit, where would you take them for a night out?
LR: If they are stepping off the train, the first place we would go, because it’s near the station, would be Shiprow, and it’s the Workshop we would visit because I love it there. It’s a bit like a speak-easy because you have to go into a different venue to get into it, it’s like a tunnel, once you get in there it’s so good because the staff are all so lovely, so that would be the first stop. Then I’d have to be biased and take them up to Tippling House, because that’s my home. And we don’t want to be drinking cocktails all the time, so on Belmont Street it’s nice to stop into Siberia or Ma Cameron’s for a gin and tonic. Then as you walk up Union Street you definitely need to stop in at The Grill, because being in Scotland, they have a ridiculous range of whiskies. Next, there’s a place called The Bartenders Lounge, it’s a new place that’s just been set up, but it’s a nice place to sit down and have a proper chat and relax. I can imagine by this time it’s getting quite late at nigh, so it’s probably time to head to Dusk and have a bit of a boogie. That’s the last stop, especially if it’s a Sunday.
BLUK: During this night out, where would you take the travelling bartenders for mid-session food?
LR: If it was around 10 O’clock at night and everyone is getting a bit hungry, there’s a place called Resident X which has three or four food vendor bits, so there’s lots for people to choose from. If there’s a big group of you and you can’t decide where to go, pop along to Resident X and there will be something for everyone there.
BLUK: Are cocktail competitions a thing in Aberdeen?
LR: We have a this competition called The Great Enchanted Tiki-Off, all the bartenders in Aberdeen pick groups of two or three, and you get a month or so to come up with an idea. It’s shut off from the public, and each group goes up and does their speech and presents their cocktail. It just means that anyone who is new to the trade isn’t so afraid to go and do a competition elsewhere because they’ve already done one with their friends.
BLUK: If a bartender with a day off was planning a trip to city they hadn’t visited before, what would you say to encourage them to pick Aberdeen?
LR: As soon as you get to Aberdeen, because it’s smaller than Edinburgh or Glasgow, it does feel so much more ‘at home’. The people are all so friendly and everyone looks out for each other in hospitality. It’s also absolutely stunning here. Even though it’s a granite city, when the sun hits it on a perfect day, it’s beautiful. And we have the beach obviously!
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