Opening A Cocktail Bar With Bart Miedeksza
Crossroads Cocktail Bar.
The new venture of top industry bartender Bart Miedeksza.
Now Bart has serious pedigree, he is a regular face on the Diageo World Class competition scene, a former brand ambassador for Vestel Vodka and has worked in some of the capitals top bars including High Water.
His new bar is sure to be a top venue, with his simple, yet elegant approach to cocktails, at the heart of it all.
Hey Bart, tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into the drinks industry?
I’m a bartender turned independent spirit brand consultant, and most recently – a bar owner.
I joined the industry over 10 years ago after resigning from my career in fashion photography.
Fashion is an incredibly specific industry, sometimes turning into what you could call a rat race and it’s totally not me. I was quite clueless in what to do next and as a young guy, I’d look for inspiration constantly, usually over a pint and a whisky in London’s bars!
That’s when I had the epiphany moment, seeing all the happy people around me and staff bringing joy, relief and an almost parallel universe where you can escape your daily routine. I decided I wanted to be a part of this world.
So I started as a glass collector at a pub, later moving to different cities – and positions within the industry: I was a bar back and a waiter in Warsaw, bartender in my hometown of Szczecin, Poland and then moved back to London to become the head bartender and bar manager later at High Water in Dalston.
Most recently I was the UK Brand Ambassador for a wonderful Polish vodka, Vestal. For the past 3 years, I have been helping bars and bartenders in becoming the best they can as a bar consultant and staff development trainer.
In my opinion, experience on all levels of hospitality is essential to successfully manage a venue. It’s the understanding of every aspect of the job that lets me help my guests, my staff and even suppliers have best experience associated with the bar.
Top to bottom experience of venues is essential, we totally agree. What in your career has had the biggest influence on you?
When I boil it down I actually think it’s seeing a smile every day!
My bartending style can definitely be described as ‘less is more’. Creating simple, delicious serves in the most time-efficient way allows me to interact with people the most. My style was shaped by wanting to have as much time for my guests as possible.
One of the most important lessons I learnt was from my mentor, the legendary Barbaros Inan – “The Captain” – who is the owner of High Water and a Sasha Petraske and Milk&Honey trained bartender:
Hospitality is not about what’s in the glass – that’s craft. And while it’s super important, it’s the way we make the guests feel that’s the key to becoming a world-class bartender. 99/100 of your guests won’t care if you make your Martinez using a letter-by-letter spec from an 1887 book if that’s all you offer.
It’s about delivering the multisensory experience – sure, the drink must be tasty and great looking, but have you thought about the brightness of the lights in your bar? Does your music match the mood? Are you engaging with your guests while being super quick?
Joining the High Water team in 2015 was the pivotal moment in my career because it made me appreciate the importance of guest experience.
There’s also a reason I never call people visiting my bar ‘customers’ or even worse ‘clients’. It’s a fundamental difference in your mindset to call them guests – it’s the small things such as this that helps put the whole experience on the right track.
It’s so true with regard to the hospitality and guest experience – a really important lesson and one many operators don’t focus on. You are about to open Crossroads in Camden. Can you tell us what to expect?
Crossroads is a place where people from different paths meet. We’re a neighbourhood bar where hospitality is king and everyone feels welcome.
On the drinks front our MO is to be innovative, but without overwhelming the guests.
We’ve decided to put our philosophy of sustainability to work here and that’s why, for example, there won’t be any citrus used on our menu. We’ve decided to focus on locally foraged and homemade ingredients where we know the producers and the provenance.
Part of what drove this was I had a lot of free time during the lockdown, but not great access to ingredients – desperate times called for desperate measures and I started playing around the homemade stuff growing in my garden and within a super small radius.
That said, we will still have some fresh citrus kicking about, so we can squeeze the juice on the spot for your Daiquiri or Margarita!
This is quite a big change for me because I was always mostly focused on executing classic cocktails and writing menus using predominantly off-the-shelf ingredients.
The team is super small, consisting of only 3 people including myself, so very tight-knit – so much so that it’d even be absurd to give ourselves job titles.
My business partner (and privately my wife!), Monika, has almost 15 years of experience in the industry, running the floor operations before moving into sommelier positions at some of London’s finest venues.
Elliot Pieddeloup will be joining us in running the venue on a day to day basis, exchanging between working behind the bar and floor, developing new serves and pretty much being your all-round host.
Elliot is an absolute machine, having worked at places like Wilder, Hawksmoor Spitalfields and High Water (where we’ve worked together for 2 years) so it really is like a family reunion.
We are really excited about checking out Crossroads when it gets open. Opening a bar during a pandemic is definitely a brave move, why now?
Here’s to the ones fitting square pegs in round holes!
We feel like going against the current trends makes us stronger, so it’s actually a perfect time for us to do this.
We’ve always had these fantasies about opening our own place. This was put on hold some time ago when we became parents, but then the lockdown came and we had plenty of time to think about the many different directions we push our careers.
That’s when we were presented with a great opportunity to take over the well-established Ladies and Gentlemen Camden bar by William Borrell (Vestal Vodka, Ladies and Gentlemen Bar – Kentish Town) and we decided to take it!
We also feel like in the ‘new normal’ when you have so much bad news about local, independent venues struggling or worse, we need to spread some positivity – and if we can do this by giving the local community a meeting point while at the same time run a profitable venture is the dream.
What are the biggest challenges you have found in setting the bar up?
Lack of time!
It seems I’m constantly running out of hours in a day and I can’t remember the last time I slept for longer than 4 hours!
Of course, a big fault here is ours – new bar owners usually give themselves 3-6 months to open and we put ourselves on a tight schedule and decided to do this in a month, while having to manage childcare for a 2-year-old!
Is it a big investment to set a bar up?
It’s all very subjective as it depends on many factors.
How much of the work are you able to do yourselves? What are your relationships with brands and suppliers? Does your venue have a premises licence already or do you need to apply for one? And what about the rent?
We’re lucky enough to be located in a space owned by the council rather than privately that would otherwise be shut and unused, therefore our rental agreements are very favourable. So much work has also been done recently – electrical installation, plumbing….so that was a relief in the potential investment.
We decided to completely revamp the interior and that was probably the biggest cost. It would’ve been much higher if we didn’t have our wonderful builders working round the clock (including weekends actually, they’re unstoppable!) making sure we can start operating as soon as possible.
What are your ambitions with Crossroads, where do you want to take it?
Training new generations of hospitality professionals is incredibly important to me. We’re currently exploring the options regarding apprenticeships for people that recently found themselves unemployed.
I’d love Crossroads to be regarded as a place that is the standout position on your CV because it speaks for your proficiency in any job that needs to be done at the bar.
Do you have any tips that you can share with anyone that has aspirations to be a bar owner?
Before you decide to open, make sure you have great friends around you – you’ll need them so much to help you focus and help you trust your instincts.
You and your business partners need to have a very clear idea of what you’re trying to achieve and what your “why” is.
If you are managing the venue, I’ll repeat myself from above, make sure you understand the job and the industry and its’ dynamics. Are you going to be the boss for the sake of being one or will you be the respected mentor?
Crossroads is now open in Camden. For more information and reservations click here.