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Sebastiano Cristofanon of the Nightjar

Sebastiano Cristofanon, has combined his love of travelling and hospitality into creating outstanding drinks in one of London’s original speakeasy’s, Nightjar. Here, he shares his experiences, inspiration and how he moved countries for one bar.

Tell us about your bar…

Nightjar is a speakeasy bar that opened as an independent bar 12 years ago. Located next to Old Street station in London’s East end. We are famous for two things live music and great cocktails.

We aim to replicate the classic speakeasy from the 1920/30’s. We have invested into décor, the music and burn Japanese blossom throughout the venue, the garnish of one of our iconic signatures.

How did you get into bartending?

I’m originally from a small village just outside Venice called Padova. I started bartending in 2003 at the age of 18 after finishing high school.

After doing an initial classic America Bar Training course for a couple of weeks. I feel in love with bartending. I worked for couple of months in this small bar on the coast, nearly 80km from my hometown, perfecting the classics.

Then in 2014, I did a masterclass at Nightjar with a good friend of mine and completely fell in love with the bar. Staying for a drink after the class, I was amazed by the flavours and drinks because back in Italy, the culture of interesting new drinks wasn’t great and was heavily focused on the classics.

I moved to London in 2015, working as an apprentice at The Gibson for six months, learning as much as I could before joining Nightjar, the rest is history.

Tell us about Nicholson Gin…

The Nightjar menu is split into three categories, pre prohibition, prohibition, post war. Each year we develop the menu and search old cocktail books, from 1800 all the way to 1930’s for inspiration. Going through the iconic Savoy Cocktail book we saw it mention Nicholson numerous times and the brand fitted extremely well with what we do at Nightjar.

It’s a fabulous product and it has all the qualities that you are looking for.

And what’s your favourite Nicolson serve?

For me it’s the classic Hanky Panky, high in alcohol and an absolute classic. It’s a bartender’s favourite. Although I do love our Alaska cocktail which is a close second.

How do you draw new innovative flavours onto the menu each year?

I’ve spent a lot of time travelling to all corners of the globe and I’m always amazed by flavour, every place that I visit whether that be a market or in a cooking class, I always dive in and try new things. I travelled to Mexico in my early twenties and was blown away by the flavours from the local ingredients, that experience spiralled to a love of creating moments.

I’m inspired by Bruce Lee saying, “Learn it, then forget it and then when you need it, use it”. I think the flavours and creativity that you need to make a drink is a lot about cultures. Drawing from the various experiences and knowledge from life experiences. It allows you to elevate a drink by inserting certain niche tastes from ones experiences.

How do you go about inventing new cocktails?

Before starting the menu, I ask the floor and bar team what they think is missing from the old menu. Whether we had too many rum cocktails or need to increase the amount of mezcal drinks. I then categorise the styles of drinks into Hiballs, Tumblers, Coupe’s to make sure we have a good balance across the menu. Our key is making the drinks memorable, championing the various elements.

At Nightjar its elaborate drinks, so we work with a lot of ingredients, building layers of flavours. Whilst at the same time taking into account the organisation and sustainability of the drinks.

Whose opinion do you want when you’ve invented a new drink?

I ask the team and owners but I’m normally fairly confident in my ability of creating the drinks and covering all points.

When you walk into a bar, what tells you if it’s going to be good?

You can tell within the first two minutes whether it’s a place you can really enjoy by the customer service. The simple things matter like the Waiter bringing you a glass of water on arrival and asking, “How you are?” making those small initial first impressions are crucial.

Tell us about the last time a cocktail blew you away.

It was small speakeasy bar in Hong Kong specialising in whisky, to be honest I don’t remember the name, but I got a whisky hi-ball. It was nothing crazy, a simple whisky and soda, with a small hint of lemon.

What’s your perfect soundtrack for mixing drinks?

Jazz is always a great relaxer, South American is good. Recently I started listening to gypsy jazz, which I’m slowly getting into.

Any tips for making cocktails at home?

Always have a freezer and serving glass full of ice. You can push the boat out by taking a classic Nicholson G&T and adding a touch of absinthe. Alternatively, you can make a simple syrup (even parts sugar & water) and blend with basil to create a refreshing Summer G&T.

When you’re relaxing at home on a night off, what are you drinking?

A cold beer, simple but does the job every time.

Try Sebastiano’s drinks for yourself at the NIGHTJAR.

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