Outside the box

Behind The Bar - Cai Beynon, The Lexington

Introducing our new series Behind the Bar, a series where we talk to some key heads at some of our favourite stockists. First up, Adam Blanchot (Solo’s head of sales), speaks to Cai Beynon from The Lexington. The Lexington is a bar and music venue in Angel.

Everyone has a story of how they ended up in hospitality, what's yours?
When I was 16, there was a bar called The Courthouse on the Isle of Man, where I’m from, and it was the place to work. Everyone who was cool and 18 worked in this bar and my mate ended up working there and I basically begged him for a night's work just so I could say I worked at the Courthouse. So I ended up doing a shift as a glass collector/barback when I was still just 16. It was a cocktail bar upstairs, a club and a busy restaurant.

I went for an interview, which at the time I thought was a big deal, which we know in hospitality isn’t always the case normally it's just “you’re alright, come in on Tuesday" sort of thing. But anyway, I ended up working there for 4 years, working my way up to supervisor. After that I went to university to study Sports Science. I canned that in after a month, so I started studying hospitality management, canned that in after two months because I was like fuck this I’ve been doing this for 3 years anyway so went back to working at The Courthouse. After that, my mate who was also from the Isle of Man that was running in a bar in London called asking if I wanted to come over for an interview, I did, and have been working in bars ever since.

You’ve been at The Lexington for longer than the average time in hospitality, what about the role/company has kept you enthusiastic all this time?
I mean it sounds very cliche but the Lexington was always my favourite bar to come to in London. It was always a thing at the Lex that employees tend to stay for a while, the previous GM was here for nearly 10 years, pretty much since it opened. It is completely independent and what we do is very pure. It's all about having a good time, doing what we like and hoping everyone one else will as well. All the bourbon behind the back bar started off as 10 bottles because Stacey, our owner, just loved bourbon and nobody was doing bourbon in London at the time. It's now expanded to 150 bottles! The music venue upstairs came about because we really loved live music but in most venues the drinks selection is typically shit, how do we marry the two? We can put on live music with really good drinks, sell bourbon, be open really late, be a party bar – these ideas meant everything just kind of fell into place. I can’t think of working anywhere else, the head office is literally just 3 people, we don’t always know what we’re doing but we go with our gut and it seems to work.

Best and worst thing about working in a bar?
Probably the best thing about managing a bar is the people, whether its customers or staff. We've got a lot of students coming through working here, who’ve never had a bar job before and it just means you meet so many people from different walks of life and get to experience them, which goes for people behind the bar and in front of it. Worst is also the people, there is a lot of dick-swinging, and we’ve had staff leave because people have been abusive to them. You try to deal with hard customers the best you can but it's extremely difficult, it's the people on both sides really.

Given the rarity of late licenses in London now I imagine/know this place gets pretty rowdy. Any favourite stories?
Favourite story is actually probably about myself because I don’t want to drop anyone else in it. I came here once after our Christmas Party, where we went to Goodmans in The City, it lead to steak, wine and in general loads of booze followed up by Murder Inc in Soho and then Crow Bar (RIP), and then we eventually ended up back here. It was a Tuesday so it was dead, there was basically no one in here apart from the staff. A bunch of us walked in and I got to the bar ordered a pint and Chris from our head office ordered me a shot. I did the shot and then immediately vomited all over my own bar, literally all over it and basically just ran away. As a consequence, for the next two years I was known as “chucker”! Never really lived that one down!

Obviously, all customers are wonderful BUT what’s your customer pet hate?
I don’t really get too bothered by it anymore. The easiest thing to do is not make a big deal out of anything someone does, they’ll just fuck off and leave. If you make a big deal you’re just prolonging the experience for everyone. But if I had to pick one, it would be basic politeness just please and thank you. When the bar is 4 deep and you’re 13 hours into your shift and someone walks in and just says “I’ll have a Four Roses, actually make that 2 and actually make them double” without a please or a thank you it really does start to grind you down but it doesn’t bother me too much. We’ve all been drunk, we’ve been slight assholes and forgotten certain things so I am not going to stand here and pretend to be all holy.

What would be the one drink you would order in any bar in the world, whether that be a five-star hotel or a dive bar. (No beer)
It is probably cliche to say a straight bourbon because you know it's always going to be of a good standard. If I was going to say something a bit more exciting, I would say a Whiskey Sour. You just can’t go wrong with a Whiskey Sour, I’ve had some bad whiskey sours and I’ve still enjoyed them.

And lastly, what's your favourite coffee cocktail?
Well, espresso martini is obviously the first thing that comes to mind but I hate when people make an espresso martini with vodka now that I’ve had it with bourbon. It just rounds the flavours off so much better, you get a real nutty flavour and so much more depth, I just think it's better! I’ve yet to have someone who disagrees with it, and if you do, come in and try one!

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