Fronting one of Birmingham's most sought after tiki bars with a 'Captain Disco' nickname in tow, Ed Shawcross is the General Manager at Island Bar and our next discovery when it comes to the city's liquid artisans. From mushroom mixology to Hawaiian shirts, hear what Ed had to say about this liquid industry:
Tell us a little about yourself and your role at Island Bar. I’ve been running Island Bar for almost three years and prior to that I worked at The Victoria where I was mentored to be the bartender I am today. Back in those days it was about waistcoats and how fast you could be but now my role is a lot more overseeing the action than being four deep behind the bar. I have a small team of eight bartenders, six of which have all started as bar support within the company and that for me is a big deal. When people ask how I came to be GM they are surprised that I just worked up from barbacking at the age of 18 and it’d be great to see some of my guys and girls do that too. I was in the top 12 bar staff under 30 at this years Imbibe Awards but without my team supporting me I’d be nowhere, but they all know I can still beat them in a speed round any day!
Island Bar recently launched a menu of Tuck Shop themed tipples and other quirky numbers. Do you think Birmingham has a taste for the unusual and unique when it comes to cocktails? I think that because there’s not a lot of places doing this kind of thing customers in Birmingham do like to get involved and try new stuff. You’ll always get the mojito and sex on the beach crowd but if you can convert even one of these with a unique drink then you’re on to a winner. The Tuck Shop page will always be a hit as it caters to the sweet end of the palate but there’s a big resurgence in disco cocktails as a bit of a kick-back against the recent molecular and over-complicated mixology years and I am more than willing to lead the way. There’s a time and a place for the more technical end of the spectrum and you’ll find these drink on our menu, but the staff don’t call me Captain Disco for nothing! (if you cut me open, I bleed grenadine!)
Island Bar was voted one of the best cocktail bars in Birmingham thanks to our users, what do you think it takes to make a cocktail bar so sought after? Thank you for the award, it does mean a lot for us to be recognized by the people! Having a successful bar is like balancing a cocktail really. Equal parts customer service, atmosphere, music and quality of drinks. We take away all the pretentious nonsense around cocktails and make it fun and accessible and it clearly works. Everyone’s integral on a weekend night from the DJ to the glass collector, they all add to the vibe.
What’s the best part about being a mixologist in a city like Birmingham? A wise man once told me to be a big fish in a small pond and that’s what’s great about being in Birmingham. It’s really easy to get your ideas noticed and stand out from the rest and generally the customers are really receptive and interested as it’s the first time they’ve seen things done a particular way.
Island Bar happens to be one of Birmingham’s only tiki-themed bars. Do you think more could be on the way in the future, and what would you like to see happen to the shape of Birmingham bars? I’d love to see more Tiki Bars pop up around Birmingham and see the scene expand like it has done recently in Manchester with the likes of Liars Club and Hula. Tiki bartenders are a friendly bunch and there’s a great community feel there so it’d be great if we had some others to exchange fire-breathing techniques with.
What is the most weird and wonderful cocktail concoction that you’ve found yourself creating at Island Bar?A couple of years ago I was trying really hard to incorporate mushrooms in to a seasonal drink based around a full English (with bacon dust!) and that was really weird. Other than that I’d say the Marmite Martini on the menu is pretty out there too. I love it when customers bring stuff in to get us to make drinks out of and that’s what spawns some of the strange creations on our menu.
If you could recommend one cocktail for guests to try on their first visit to Island Bar, what would it be and why? It would have to be the Zombie! People go mad for it and love the fire show and it really does sum up Island well. It’s a tiki staple with loads of good rum and apricot brandy and plenty of tiki juice for one of your five a day.
And last but not least, let’s be honest with one another, how many Hawaiian themed shirts do you actually own? My guess? More than one. I’m not gonna lie, there are a few! Can’t beat the personalised ones we had made last year with the Island logo on. That comes out regularly for the weekly hard-fought underground ping pong match between myself and Captain Fishcake to find out who’s on top that week.