The King of Islington brings a sea change

Knowledge is King at SLTN Award-winning venue

BEFORE The King of Islington in Dundee opened its doors in 2018, Macmerry 300 – the bars group behind the venue – had a clear vision for a cocktail bar with sugar cane spirits from around the world at its heart.

And as the venue, which was named SLTN Rum Bar of the Year for 2019 in association with Bacardi Brown-Forman Brands, approaches its second anniversary next month, general manager Dimi Savvaidis and AJ McMenemy, area manager of Macmerry 300, are more than sure it was the right decision.

“I feel the sugar cane focus helped us drive things forward and continues to do so,” said AJ. “Now that we’re pulling in rums from Japan and Mexico and everywhere in between, it has been a real eye-opener for us – it has kept us excited and engaged which in turn does the same for the guests.”

Despite space being limited in the 42-capacity venue, the bar is home to 120 rums, including a range from independent bottlers and rare, auction-bought expressions.

Some rums rotate on a weekly basis, while staples like Diplomatico, Flor de Caña and OVD are permanent fixtures on the back-bar.

Dimi said the range is continually evolving.

Dream team: Dimi (second left), AJ (centre) and Macmerry 300 owner Phil Donaldson pick up the SLTN Rum Bar of the Year Award for 2019

“We opened back in 2018 with 120 rums, most of which people had seen before,” he said.

“We then started to filter out the more well known names and upped the quality to ensure we were constantly educating people and giving them something new to try.

“Not a day goes by without one of us messaging each other about a new spirit launch, event or brand – it’s part of us and we’re in this game forever.

“We all know that this is a job, but it’s also a lifestyle.”

Country of production and regionality determine both the positioning of the rum bottles behind the bar and the layout of the drinks menu.

AJ said: “Our Across the Seven Seas drinks menu is a way for customers to guide themselves through our offering – each page denotes a sea and the ingredients used in the drinks that are sourced from the landline that locks each sea.

The 42-capacity venue, the bar is home to 120 rums

“Take, for example, the Gulf of Mexico, which is famous for mezcals, tequila, and rye whiskey-based drinks; the area gives us the steer to be able to pitch drink ideas to fit the geographical locations.

“The menu was built as an introduction to the spirit and a way for people to understand the feel rum gives to a drink. We now want to change it for our regular customers to keep them engaged and trying new things.”

Being able to cater to and educate the wealth of customers who walk through the door is key, according to AJ and Dimi.

Dimi said: “Some of our customers love spiced rum but have exhausted the category and are keen to try different things. With them, you don’t have to move them up to a more expensive spiced offering; you can move them sideways to rums that aren’t defined as spiced but carry the same profile and have sweet flavours, such as Don Papa and El Dorado.

“A big element of our job is teaching people who want to be taught; not everyone goes out to drink for an education – there is a select group that does, however.

“Rum is still being categorised and it doesn’t have one geographical location which makes things a bit wider for you to understand but also shows how it is the most versatile spirit on the market.

“We came into the business quite guarded and now we have people battering down the door to ask about the spirit – the level of conversation is brilliant and is something I never expected at the beginning.”

Dimi agreed. “We’ve educated the city when it comes to rum,” he said.

“A few years ago Dundee didn’t have a large rum offering and if there isn’t a wide selection available it stops people from being able to learn.”

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“It has become a tradition that none of us is allowed to come back from travelling without a bottle of rum for us all to try. That’s what it’s all about – at the end of the day, rum is for sharing, not keeping.”

– Dimi Savvaidis

“It’s true that we like to engage customers with new bottles but not everything is for everyone – as bartenders, we’ve got over-exposed palates so certain flavours will be so far off for people and we’re mindful of that.”

– AJ McMenemy

“El Dorado is my bridging rum to upgrade people to start viewing rums which have spent time in a barrel and which has toned down sugar content giving more of a better representative of what the liquid really is.”

– Dimi Savvaidis