About Time You Met: Hannah Sharman-Cox and Siobhan Payne, Co-Founders of London Cocktail WeekBy Alicia Grimshaw
Over the past two decades, Hannah Sharman-Cox and Siobhan Payne have established themselves as two of the most influential figures in the male-dominated global bar industry. The duo are behind London Cocktail Week, which has long held the title of the world’s biggest cocktail festival (more than 200 bars will take part this year), and has formed the pioneering blueprint for numerous similar bar festivals worldwide. Now in its 14th year, London Cocktail Week returns with new experiences, masterclasses and exciting bar collaborations:
How did you both get into the drink industry? Did you meet for the first time through your careers?
Hannah Sharman-Cox: As per so many people within hospitality – we both sort of fell into it – but also immediately fell in love with it. It really is the most welcoming industry with lots of opportunities if you’re prepared to work hard. I started front of house in a Soho members club, before moving into more behind-the-scenes work – marketing, press and promotion – which ultimately led me here. Siobhan started in drinks PR and we were first introduced back in 2011 when the festival was in its infancy. We’ve worked together every day since.
London Cocktail Week is a pioneering initiative. How did the idea for the festival come about?
Siobhan Payne: We really just wanted an opportunity to showcase our industry in the best possible light, and encourage more and more people to enjoy just how great a mixed drink can be. Less so now, but when we first started cocktails weren’t quite such a big deal and there were definitely fewer great bars. Inviting our guests into venues where we loved to taste drinks (at a lower price point), encourages trial and exploration.
What does London Cocktail Week aim to do – what is its ethos?
HSC: One of our main mottos is Cocktails For Everyone! We want everyone and anyone to feel empowered to order a drink they might not recognise or visit a bar they might not already know. Plus whether you’re drinking alcohol or not, there’s lots and lots of delicious things to try. All our drinks are priced at a standard £8 if you’re wearing a festival wristband– hopefully making them more accessible for people.
Our other main ethos is looking after London’s hospitality industry. We ensure that the festival is really valuable for the bars that are on our Cocktail Tours list (both in terms of visibility, but also commercially). Over the fourteen years of the festival, we’ve put millions and millions of pounds back into the nighttime economy through the wristband drinks in bars, which is something we’re so proud of.
You have built your careers around championing the hospitality industry, what effect do you think London Cocktail week has had on the bar industry, not only in the UK but on a global scale?
SP: It’s great to see so many other Cocktail Weeks popping up all over the world, and it’s wonderful that so many have followed our model and focused on ensuring guests have the best time possible! It would be easy to create an event that’s just for bartenders, but if we’re going to make a real difference, we need more and more people to understand the craft and care that goes into creating a beautiful cocktail.
Now in its 14th year, what’s in store for the 2023 festival? What makes it different to previous years?
HSC: We’ve added a few new initiatives this year in order to keep the schedule feeling fresh and the festival as a whole feeling relevant. One of the most exciting is The Connoisseur’s Collection: a selection of very high-end experiences aimed at our most discerning consumers. The Connoisseur’s Collection has given us the opportunity to work with bars who can’t facilitate the £8 Cocktail Tour price point. It is important to us that we can work with these venues, in creating a true celebration of London’s cocktail culture.
What are you excited about in this year’s festival?
SP: More than ever, this year we’re excited about the convivial aspect of London Cocktail Week amongst London’s bar scene. We have made the changes to the festival with the intention of bringing the festival to a place where it feels like this really is a community project; a chance for bartenders to support and champion each other.
The Curated Cocktail Tours, where London Cocktail Week ticket holders gain access to reduced price signature serves at all participating bars in London, have been a longstanding feature of the festival. What’s your favourite Signature cocktail(s) from previous years, and which one are you most looking forward to this year?
HSC: That’s like picking a favourite child! Don’t make us choose! We really love it when bars really go over and above with airs and foams and smokes and crazy garnishes! They always draw the crowds! Left to our own devices we’re Martini fans – super simple, super delicious. We’ll be in a dark corner enjoying a few of those.
Many of the participating bars will be offering non-alcoholic cocktails too as part of the festival – how important do you think it is to make the festival accessible to non-drinkers, and why?
SP: We’ve been running a N/A programme for about a decade now. Cocktails are about so much more than the alcohol within them; it’s the ritual, the joy of being in a bar with your friends and enjoying each other’s company. Whatever the reason someone doesn’t want to drink alcohol, they shouldn’t have to miss out on that so we always ask our bar partners to also put forward a N/A cocktail which we price at £6.
What do you think the London bar and cocktail scene will look like in five years time? What do you hope London Cocktail Week will look like?
HSC: Well we hope London Cocktail Week continues to be an important point in the calendar for so many bartenders all around the world and of course for our lovely guests – some of whom have been there every year alongside us!
I think bars are becoming even more important in our lives as a place for people to socialise and spend real and quality time together so I think any bar that is welcoming and understands the needs of the community it finds itself in will prosper.
What do you think the next big cocktail trend is?
SP: We see that drinks are getting smaller and stronger – and in London specifically – more bitter too. Other countries have a much sweeter palate than we do. Thank goodness we live here!
What’s your go-to cocktail?
HSC: We both always opt for a Wet Vodka Martini with a twist please.
What’s your go-to bar?
SP: Again you make us choose!? It would be mean to do so. We’ll have our Martinis at Hannah’s house.
For more information on London Cocktail Week, see here.