Brighton’s cocktail scene continues to go from strength-to-strength with cocktails offered not only by mixology driven bars but also many pubs and restaurants. Nick Mosley talks to Julien Barnett of Gungho, one of the city’s leading destination venues for true cocktail connoisseurs.
Your name, address and age and some background about you…
I’m Julien Barnett, 27 years old, and I run Gungho at 36 Preston Street, Brighton. I've worked in bars and restaurants since I hit 18. My first cocktail bar job was at the Be At One cocktail bar chain. After that I worked around independent bars in Brighton and moved to London for a small stint but decided to ultimately come back to Brighton.
What is your venue called, where is it and when was it established?
Gungho in the middle of Preston Street in Brighton, We’re located a stones-throw from the i360 and surrounded by lots of other restaurants and venues. We opened in December 2017 after a long hunt to secure a venue and then refurbish it.
How many on your team and who are they?
There are currently three of us: Chris, Abbie and me.
Tell us about your offering in terms of drinks, how you develop your menu and the experience customers can expect…
We have a very waste conscious approach which we have maintained since the beginning. I was frustrated with the amount of waste in some bars so we started with a small selection of cocktails using local, seasonal ingredients along with classic cocktails and local beers and natural wines. We have slowly but surely adapted and now deliver even classic cocktails with a waste-minimum approach.
These days we have an expanded cocktail offering with different themes. Our 'Revised Disco Drinks’ are disco-era drinks revised for the modern palate; ’Seasonal Cocktails’ are avant-garde creations spotlighting local produce when in season; whilst ’Apothecary’ are soft drinks exploiting powerful plants for beneficial effects.
We use spirits from sustainable distilleries and local producers including Slake Spirits, Brighton Gin, Old Tree Brewery, Sipsup Drinks and Pharmacie Coffee Roasters.
When you visit, you can expect relaxing in our cosy niche bar with table service from knowledgable staff. The bar is neon-lit and was built using reclaimed timber and scaffolding. We play tunes from the 80s or funky beats from lesser known producers; it's a place where you can have proper drinks and great service alongside fun and banter.
How did the idea for your business originally come about?
At the time a lot of focus from restaurants was on seasonal ingredients; that really inspired me for our first cocktail menu back in December 2017.
On that menu, drinks included ‘Mushroom’ with pickled notes and Scotch Whisky, Japanese Umeshu plum liqueur, lavender and soda; and ‘Apple’ with baked notes, bourbon, star anise and Werthers Original.
I also wanted to make sure classic cocktails were available too so as not to alienate guests but equally wanted a relaxed and fun bar that was still serious with the drinks and food offering. I was very adamant on ensuring the music is great, the lights are low and the decor is well-visioned and cosy.
How have you coped during the pandemic?
Well needless to say that it has been a struggle both financially and mentally. We had to take huge loans to save the business. We are a small place, so I can only imagine how it has been for a lot of other places. But we have stayed strong and have worked harder than ever to stick with our ethos and keep delivering to our cocktail community a place to let off steam.
What would you like to tell people about your business?
That we've cleverly hacked everything into a sustainable symbiosis whilst maintaining the 'fundamentals' of what makes a cocktail bar. Whilst we haven't quite taken the approach to ban all imported products, all those products are in a preserved state – so you can still enjoy a margarita at Gungho but you’ll probably be very shocked to find out there's no lime juice in them!
What are your plans for the future?
We plan to go even crazier with our drinks creativity and hope to expand our business for the summer with more outside seating and a takeaway or off-license option. I would love a bigger venue, so that we can start using hydroponics to grow some of our own ingredients on site and expand our food offering.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
We all need to warm up this season so come for some Irish Coffees – they are absolutely banging and come with vegan handwhipped cream. Oh, and a bit 'hush-hush' but we made on to the Top 50 Cocktail Bars in the UK – the secret recipe for our Basil Grandes are on the website.
Gungho is open Tuesday-Saturday from 4-11pm. 36 Preston Street, Brighton, BN1 2HP. 01273 733 266. www.gungobar.com