Interview: bartender Simon Ford (Pernod Ricard USA)

Bartender New York City

Photo courtesy of Simon Ford

London is widely acknowledged as a global cocktail hub at this point, but due south in the British seaside resort of Brighton, bartenders like Simon Ford helped to develop a satellite scene with its own merits. Ford opened Koba there in 2002, and the accolades started streaming in. The Guardian named Koba one of the Top 10 cocktail bars in the UK, but Ford had ambitions beyond Brighton. He worked as an International Ambassador for Plymouth and currently serves as Director – Trade Outreach and Brand Education 
for Pernod Ricard USA, traveling the world to promote the company’s roster of spirits. He recently flew to Los Angeles to co-host a Gin Symposium at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and to get back behind the bar on March 30 at The Edison, preparing his “Good Morning, Vietnam” cocktail. Leading up to his guest bartending stint, Ford shared insights on his background and approach.

Do you consider yourself a bartender or mixologist?

A bartender.

What’s the difference?

Mixology is just a part of the bartender package. People at home with no experience could be a mixologist and make a good drink but to get behind a busy bar and conduct the crowds with great service is a whole other skill.

How did you become so interested in cocktails?

I was first inspired by a gentleman called Wayne Collins who made me my first Sazarac about 12 years ago but I was hanging out in London and the time of their cocktail revival when bartenders like Nick Strangeway, Dick Bradsall, Tony Conigliaro and Jamie Terrell were all doing their thing at bars such as The Atlantic, The Lab and Che. It was a really exciting time for cocktails in London. In some ways, what has happened to L.A’s cocktail scene in the past few years reminds me of those glory days in London.

What’s your first cocktail memory?

Pretty much every pub in the UK serves Pimm’s cups and Bloody Mary’s and we all grown up drinking them with out really knowing that they are cocktails. Aside from that I do remember buying a bottle of cheap Cachaca with a muddler attached to it when I was about 20 and attempting to make Caipirinha’s with it.

Where did you grow up, and what was your first cocktail-related job?

My first cocktail related job was actually in marketing spirits. I worked for Seagram’s on brands such as Plymouth Gin, Martell and Chivas. When Seagram’s was sold I took what I had learnt and opened a bar in Brighton called Koba that a friend of mine, Jake Kempston, owns. It’s still there and they are still making mighty fine drinks.

Do you have any cocktail mentors?

Wayne Collins is my main mentor because I was privileged to work with him for a while, he is one of those bartenders that is slick to watch and has a head full of stories and recipes.

It was Steve Olson and Doug Frost that first taught me how to appreciate spirits when they came to London with the Sterling School of Spirits.

I have also had the chance to bartend with Dale DeGroff on a number of occasions and its hard not to learn something new each time you watch him in action.

Dave Wondrich has to be the most interesting character in the bartending world at the moment because he has uncovered so many great stories about bartending for us and he serves as a great teacher of cocktail heritage.

Who are some other bartenders or mixologists who you respect?

Jason Crawly in Australia because he brings so much humor and energy to this industry, Dick Bradsell because he is London’s original and is still doing it his way. Sammy Ross at Milk and Honey because the last cocktail he made me in nearly brought a tear to my eye it tasted so good and Doug Quinn who is behind the stick at PJ Clarke’s. Watching him orchestrate the crowd on a busy night is magical experience. There are so many more that I would love to mention.

What are some bars that you enjoy drinking at, regardless of the city?

Death and Company in NYC, it has a Dream team of bartenders at the moment. The Dukes hotel in London, the Martini ritual is worth the visit alone. Employees Only in New York, they are serving great cocktails in a busy environment, The Florida Room in Miami, some of the best nights out I have ever had and where else do you get to watch Snoop Dogg perform a show whilst sipping a perfectly made Margarita and Andres Carne de Res in Bogota, the craziest and most well thought out bar I have ever been to. They even have a nursery for sobering up people that have had too many drinks.

What’ a great simple cocktail recipe for people to make at home?

The Last Word Cocktail. It’s 4 ingredients, all equal measures

¾ oz Plymouth Gin
¾ oz Green Chartreuse
¾ oz Maraschino Liqueur
¾ oz Fresh squeezed Lime Juice

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass

If you could only drink one more cocktail, what would it be?

That is a tough question…probably a Negroni.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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