Outside the box
Behind the Bar - FUNKIDORY
Funkidory is a cocktail bar and record store based in Peckham, London. A small bar, with a big reputation and long list of cocktails. We recently partnered with Funkidory for Record Store Day which was a huge success. We thought it made sense to have a sit down with the owners for a Behind the Bar chat.
Adam: Who are you and where do you work?
Anna: I’m Anna Fairhead and I work at Funkidory.
Sergio: And I’m Sergio Leanza and I work at Funkidory.
Adam: How did you guys meet? And what was the moment you decided to say “let's open a bar together”?
A: We met at a festival actually, which was in Shoreditch Rivington Street, in front of a big sound system… drinking very strong cocktails. Sergio was obviously working in bars. I was working in finance.
S: That was around nine years ago.
A: I wanted to work in more of a creative company. And yeah, I got this interview with Sweet and Chilli. I got the job. They were really tiny then so my role was very much, like, to just come on board. One of my first projects was House of Peroni, and they wanted me to put together an all-Italian party, like there’s not enough Italians in bars. And we'd been dating for about six months or something at that point. I brought Sergio on board. And then we ended up working together. So it was just by coincidence we ended up working together in the same industry.
S: We worked very, very hard. And at one point we were like, why don't we just do this for ourselves?
A: We both took career breaks and started working on our business plan. It was a little bit broken, so we had to go back to work. And then we'd pick it up again and go back to work and then pick it up again. And eventually it came together. We had to come up with something solid. And Funkidory was born.
S: We already lived here (in Peckham) so we specifically looked at this pavement and so it took a while to find a spot on this road. We basically almost signed a contract with all the empty units.
A: We needed a landlord who was either going to take a leap of faith and we found him.
S: Rather than working with an agency we saw a piece of paper with a phone number, and called that number. It's been amazing to be able to just put everything that we like in the world into a corner.
Adam: Sergio, is your family’s background in hospitality?
Sergio: No but both my parents are from Sicily. In Italy hospitality is a big thing. But the more you go south the more you get this. You know, your house is always open for people to come in. Everybody’s always sharing everything.
Adam: What took you into hospitality?
Sergio: I wasn’t very good at concentrating at school. I was always dropping out, skating, and meeting friends. Then I came across a two year course in jewellery and I finished it with a diploma. I started working in the field in Milan then Como but just got bored. In the evening, I used to help in a steakhouse. I then left my jewellery job to work there. It was a disaster in my father’s eyes, he didn’t understand why I left my job to work in a steakhouse. Then I found a job at a sports bar and worked there for a couple of years and this woman, Lydia, took care of me like she was my auntie. The atmosphere was beautiful. It's like a local pub in the UK. People that have grown up together just popping in for a pint after work.
Adam: Was having a neighbourhood cocktail bar the intention when you started, or has it just organically grown into that side more?
S: I think it was always very much our intention. Everything else grew around that. We already lived and spent time in Peckham. What we found very unique about the area was this sense of community. People do talk to each other, support each other, and I never really felt that anywhere else in London.
I didn’t want to open something in a place where I don’t spend time. We wanted it to be an expression of us, where we lived, and for it to be authentic rather than opportunistic. We wanted it to be very much a mix of things that we were interested in and people who appreciated what we were doing. A strong foundation.
People would just come in on their own and actually ended up making friends here and then they would come back together. That’s been the most rewarding thing to see. I have to pinch myself a little bit because it's like, we've created this space.
Adam: Community is not something you can force.
A: Just the support that we've had during the pandemic, obviously, we never could have planned for that. And that was terrifying. The first lockdown, I was three weeks away from giving birth. It was just like, oh my god, what is going to happen? We felt so reassured by the support that we had and it really took a lot of the burden away. We're forever grateful for that.
Adam: What's the hardest challenge, apart from Covid, that you've experienced in the time of running a bar?
A: I think the opening process. All the licensing, planning and the waiting game. You put through an application and wait, wait, wait. In the meantime, you’re haemorrhaging money in that, but you don’t know whether you’re gonna get it to work because there is no sort of perfect situation where you can apply for all of the right things. You have this idea that you can apply for the permissions for things and get a unit and then, once you’ve got all that secured, it sort of happens in this neat little way, but it doesn’t. There’s a lot of not knowing if it’s actually going to work out.
S: I've been doing this all my life. I started when I was 16. I know how to be a bartender. It's second nature to me. But I had no experience opening a bar.
A: And there's just a lot of planning behind the scenes that shouldn’t be taken for granted. To actually have a business that is successful and for it to run smoothly you've got to have almost an obsessive nature about attention to detail. And it can be chaotic and uncertain. We’re kind of messy, but in other ways, incredibly organised.
S: We’re really good at making things up last minute .
A: That’s when we really get into things when the pressure is on.I think that was the most difficult for me – doing everything ourselves for a very long time. And you have to become the plumber, the electrician, the designer, the marketer, absolutely everything. You’re putting on all these different hats and juggling.
S: For a very long time It was just him and me. Everyone’s situations are different, but we took a very big leap – it was more of a gamble.
Adam: London is not an easy place and I think it has a lot of flaws when it comes to hospitality in terms of how things are run. If you were to sit down for an espresso martini for 10 minutes with Sadiq Khan, what feedback would you give to him?
S: I think rents in London are wild, there should be a limit for the use of small spaces - it shouldn’t be costing that much.
A: To give people more of a fighting chance to survive.
S: We've seen in our area, when one of our neighbours leaves, the rent just increases insanely. £5000 a year higher. How does that continue? At some point nobody will be able to afford these prices anymore. Who will come in then? The independents are going to die out aren’t they?
Adam: One more of a glass half full: what’s been the biggest joy? We have talked about communities – maybe that one?
S: Definitely. Community
Adam: Funkidory also functions as a record store during the day, why was it important to incorporate music into your bar?
S: We both luckily like the same kind of music styles – R&B, hip hop, soul and funk. I’ve been really into hip hop since I was very young and I put a lot of money and effort into making beats, to the point where I really wanted to be a beat maker, but I never made it work. Then I started DJing a lot.
A: When we met in Rivington street, on that street at the time was a Bedroom bar. I used to go and watch a lot of live music and I spent a lot of time there. I'd actually been served by Sergio like a year earlier. At the time this young guy was DJing and Sergio was just going wild behind the bar while really miserably serving people. He was on his own and would just go mad.
S: Music has been a big part of our lives and our story together. It’s so important in a venue. Having a decent soundtrack just makes a venue. You can tell if someone actually gives a shit about the music. We very much have a vibe that we want to create.
Adam: I find that a lot of bars’ playlists sometimes mirror what mood the bartender is in rather than what the customer actually wants.
S: Well, I love Biggie, but I will never play the entire album. Also lyrics wise you have to be aware that you’re in a public space (though that doesn’t mean I don’t listen to it). You can’t play ‘Fuck the police’, but you can play the sample of it. Who knows knows?
A: We always had a record player and our own vinyls, so it was part of the pandemic response thing where we realised we should have a bit more of a record shop going on with the wine.
Adam: I stole this question off another drinks podcast but I really liked it: One drink you’re going to drink in any bar in the world, whether that be The Savoy or The White Horse. What is it? Ideally not a beer!
A: Can you go like neat stuff, ’cause I would never risk a cocktail just. It’d be something neat. You’d probably have whisky.
S : Yeah, I’m so bad, I always order the same thing.
A: If it came to drinks, we’d order a martini. Sergio would have a dry gin. I’d have a vodka dirty martini – but we don’t order that everywhere. But most places would have semi decent bourbon or something.
S: Yeah, yeah. I’d have a bourbon.
Adam: What's the biggest difference between Italian and British drinking habits?
A: Free food!
S: Oh yeah we eat a lot before drinking or while we drink. When English people say we drink so much, I think all I know is going out drinking. Drinking at home, drinking out, drinking all night. The difference is that I eat a lot.
Adam: Last question! How do you make your espresso martinis? Any secret ingredients?
S: Not sweet. Good quality coffee. Play around by swapping the coffee liqueur with something interesting. When we opened the bar, we had a coffee cocktail called KEFI. This was 25ml Roots Mastiha, 10ml coffee liqueur, 10ml Amaro Montenegro, 10ml dark rum, 25ml cold brew coffee, 2 drops chilli tincture. Shaken and garnished with a Kalamata olive on a stick. Sounds fucking bonkers, but it was one of our best sellers! We keep it simple now. So, our drink is Sapling vodka, Montenegro, a touch of agave syrup and Solo coffee. We just shake it, no garnish.