When you enter Bassoon, it’s most likely music, rather than drinks, that you notice first. But not just with your ears – the walls are hung with jazz-inspired prints by American artist William H Johnson, and perhaps even more obviously, there is music literally built into the bar in the form of Bassoon’s bespoke piano.
‛Music is essential to the history of Bassoon’ explains its bar manager, Sean Kelly. ‛Aside from the piano and the art, we have featured live music since the bar launched and now have a curated music programme with a live DJ four nights a week.’ And how important a role does music have to play in a space like this? Sean is emphatic: ‛It’s elemental! I’ve walked into many bars only to immediately turn around because the music was too loud, too quiet, or simply didn’t suit the mood of the group. Also, there has been many times when my experience at a place was longer than expected because the music kept the good times rolling.’
Sean is definitely well-placed to offer an opinion or two on keeping the good times rolling on a night out in the big city. He spent several years as the bar director for the two-Michelin-star restaurant The Modern in the Museum of Modern Art in New York and has managed the bar programmes for Il Buco and Il Buco Alimentari: both timeless New York restaurants. Now he’s in our beloved London to mix up the capital’s cocktails.
‛The bar scene in London is always evolving,’ Sean explains. ‛That’s what makes London arguably the most dynamic city in the world for drinking cocktails. The one thing I really admire is that even as London bartenders are innovating and being experimental, they seem to stay rooted in the classics.’
His favourite classic? ‛A margarita made with two parts quality Blanco tequila, one part fresh lime juice, and one part Cointreau with salt sprinkled directly into the drink.’
How does London nightlife differ from New York? ‛Both cities are so vast and cosmopolitan and have such vibrant nightlife! Although I think a big difference is the prominence of the hotel bars in London – they have so much history and prestige. And of course, you have the pub culture in London. But both cities have amazing cocktail scenes.’
A big part of Sean’s talent is understanding what makes someone, spoilt for choice, stay in his bar for the evening. Is there a magic formula or x factor? ‛I’ve already mentioned the music and the quality of the drinks. What I haven’t mentioned is the personal touch that the Bassoon team delivers. We pride ourselves on being approachable and friendly in our service, but also professional and detailed. You want the experience to feel like a treat, without being daunting or overwhelming.
The marriage of expertise with genuine warmth and hospitality is a rare combination. We strive for this on a nightly basis.’ As for us, we think people stay for the Bergamot Negroni. ‛It’s dynamite’ Sean agrees. ‛Rarely do riffs on the Negroni ever actually improve upon the classic recipe. But ours is a must try!’