As far as travel blogs go, TooFewSteps is an odd one in that we are yet to find our niche. We love to change things around, edit pieces within an inch of their lives, explore different narrative, and, more often than we care to mention, we like to wipe the slate clean and start afresh. One thing can never be questioned, however, and that is our enjoyment of a well poured pint or a carefully constructed cocktail.
Now we are about to usher in the age of the TFS mini-interview and how better to help us out than by chatting to a friend of the blog, and one of our favourite barmen, Thom Hay-Owens, whilst Ben Owens (no relation) was back visiting Manchester, England this past week.
Thom works in the rather beautiful establishment that is Tom’s Champagne Bar found within the House of Fraser building on Deansgate – in the heart of Manchester. It holds a certain air of class with a current of levity flowing through the space quite nicely, which for many of the champagne bars I have come to frequent is a hard mix to maintain. The bar is a clean and clear workstation for the attentive and friendly staff. All of whom put my knowledge of cocktail concoction to the test on a second to second basis.
“Hey there. Think you can hit me with a decent Mojito, could you?”
“No problem, sir, coming right up”
“You wouldn’t be able to make me a Gin Sling, would you?”
“There we go, no worries”
“Excuse me, Barkeep? Might I trouble you for an Old Fashioned, heavy with Rye?”
*Did anyone else notice how old timey fancy I get as I get deeper into the cocktail list? There is a cure for that and it is called ‘lunch’, take note folks*
Cocktail wise, they are great. No matter the drink, as long as it has been documented somewhere, I guarantee these folks have the recipe on hand ready to go. As for champagne, for which the bar is named for, the bar plays host to the likes of Pol Roger, Mumm, and Perrier Jouet, with their house being a lovely little Tribaut. Both celebration and cocktail fun can be easily enjoyed at Tom’s Champagne Bar.
Thom Hay-Owens is a supervisor at Tom’s Champagne Bar and is currently enrolled in a competition of cocktail concoctiony skill. A competition ran by the smooth liqueur that is Southern Comfort. The Southern Showdown pits bartenders from across the United Kingdom against one another in their attempts to harness the soul of New Orleans in a cocktail.
Naturally, anything New Orleans is my jam and I had to come back to Manchester, England to check out what Thom had been cooking up in that mad head of his. We had a brief chat (mostly pleasantries and stories of the old days, you wouldn’t be interested) and then got right down into the thick of it; What about New Orleans inspired the creation of his signature cocktail, the Bienville Sour, and how many of them I was allowed to sample.
Q: So, the competition is based on emulating the history and soul that is the spirit of New Orleans, a melting pot of many differing cultures and home to some of the most innovative musicians and artists ever known. My question is where did you first start your search for inspiration, and how did you go about creating this signature drink?
A: The inspiration behind the drink was the French-Canadian heritage of New Orleans. It was founded by Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville in 1718 and ever since then the French culture has swept throughout the city. This is why I have tried to obtain a mix of French ingredients throughout the drink. I think it’s important to know where you come from, and this drink is a celebration of that.
Q: Oh well, you have definitely done your homework here, well done. How has it been working here at Tom’s Champagne Bar? Working on the creation and promotion of the Bienville must be hard work on top of working full time. How are you finding the technicalities of management whilst your mind is constantly on the creative side?
A: The great thing about Tom’s Champagne Bar is that we are customer orientated. I know a lot of places say that, but sometimes other technicalities get in the way. We provide table service, make any changes to the food and drink items to support the customer and are happy to create of menu items cocktail wise if we have the stock. I’m not going to be the guy that denies someone a Classic Daiquiri or a Clover Club if that’s their favourite drink.”
Q: Quite rightly so. Last couple of questions for you now; How is the Southern Showdown competition heating up? Are you in contact with any of the competing bartenders?
A: I think that Southern Comfort is doing a great thing here. Regardless of the obvious perks of the prizes and prestige that are up for grabs, this competition is bringing bartenders all over the UK together to create new and exciting drinks. I’ve seen other bartenders share and enjoy other competitors drinks, it’s got a real community vibe. It’s not necessarily about your individual cocktail, it’s about the big picture, that being celebrating a great spirit and putting a city as amazing as New Orleans on a pedestal.
After a couple of Bienville Sours, and a couple of Cola’s as Thom was still on shift (oops), we cursed the beauty that is New Orleans, Louisiana, and patiently waited for him to get off shift so we could perform the real interview.
If any of you peeps are in the Deansgate area of Manchester, hit up Tom’s Champagne Bar and ask for Thom. Tell him I sent you, he will take good care of you. If you want to help him out on his quest to win Regionals and get the chance to go to New Orleans with his cocktail, then please, throw him a like on his Facebook page.
Keep well, y’all.
Chat in a soon.