Most of you will remember the charming and unique And All That Could Have Been, situated for all too short a period amongst the shops, cafes and restaurants of Goodramgate. Cruelly snatched from the public, And All That Could Have Been was a benchmark in modern and traditional bar-hopping, combining skilled mixology and excellent customer service to provide an experience lacking, even in the most cosmopolitan corners of York. The bar managed to straddle the line between sensation and closely guarded secret, becoming a hotspot for the kind of hush-hush, in the know, secret knock types, yet also maintaining a must-visit status for outsiders.
James Wreglesworth’s vision has been sorely missed, and savvy drinkers have had to frequent the city’s other bars for liquid sustenance. No more, however, as James has announced his return to York in a different location; Swinegate, to be exact. I caught up with James to get a better picture of his intentions this time, and what we can expect.
Q. Hi James. And All That Could Have Been was exciting and innovative. What can we expect from your new venture?
A. Thanks! That’s very kind. I think firstly, we’ve picked a really strong name. I liked And All That Could Have Been as a heading because it really didn’t sound like a bar. I think the name held a certain mystique. This time, I’ve gone for the polar opposite effect. The bar is going to be called, “The Blind Swine” which hopefully elicits thoughts of a traditional English public house – perhaps in the countryside – when in actuality, we’re a city centre, late-night cocktail bar.
The name has meaning too. The first laws that restricted the sale of alcohol in the US were brought in as early as the beginning of the 18th Century – long before Prohibition. Establishments operating without the correct license would often charge patrons a set fee (say, 20 cents) so see an attraction in a back room. More often than not, this attraction was a pig! After viewing the evening’s entertainment, the guest would then return to the main bar area and receive his “complimentary” cocktail – thus circumventing all laws relating to the “sale” of alcohol. This type of venue was henceforth known as a, “Blind Pig”. We’ve always adored the story so with the new venue being on Swinegate we had to call it, “The Blind Swine”!
Q. What can prospective customers expect this time around?
A. This time around, our guests can expect to come and have fun. We’re going for a very relaxed vibe. The decor is going to be a dense patchwork of forgotten knick-knacks and beguiling antiques that we’ve picked up at auction houses and car-boot sales. These items are going to cover the walls and ceilings. The tables and chairs are all re-made from old or damaged furniture. We’re working with some very talented craftsmen. I wanted a concept that would be timeless and not require a refit every six months. I hit upon the idea of a curiosity shop, even before we opened And All That Could Have Been. I really like the idea of a place that you could go to, twice a week, for the next twenty years but every time you sit down, you notice something new. It’s the opposite of minimalism. It’s not about picking up a load of old shit and nailing it to the wall. It’s the idea that we could acquire items that, for whatever reason, have become unloved, unused or superseded – and suspend them in time. We’re giving these items a second chance by altering their course away from the landfill.
The overall ambience of the place will reflect the time of day. One of comfort and sanctuary during the morning and afternoon; of excitement and intimacy in the early evening and a place to cut loose and party from nighttime until the wee hours. If we’re comfortable and relaxed, our perception of flavour is heightened and the situation is more conducive to us having a great time.
Q. What’s the ethos of the new bar? Do you have a mission statement for what you want to achieve?
A. The ethos is absolutely about “Fun” and “Flavour”. We’ve designed the time you stay with us from the ground up. That’s not to say that it will feel contrived, it’s just that if we pay attention to things like the use of temperature, ergonomics, colour, seating, lighting and music, we can attenuate your experience with us.
It’s all done so that you can have the best possible time and so that we can provide you with what you like consistently. Consistency is key here. Consistency of ambience, service and quality of product are utterly paramount – but I’m trying to show that you don’t have to be wearing a three-piece suit or pay through the nose to be able to achieve those things.
Q. Will you be sticking with the favourite drinks from AATCHB, or can we expect a new menu?
A. We’ve kept a few, we’ve tweaked a few and we’ve added a few. The cocktail list is going to revolve around a core of ten drinks. These will be seasonal with their ingredients reflecting applicable flavours for the time of year. For example, you don’t want a Strawberry Daiquiri in January because, in the UK, strawberries taste terrible in January. We’ll also have four house specials, on a blackboard, which will rotate daily. If we have the means to make it, you’ll always be able to get a drink you had with us before.
We’ve got our hands on some new equipment too – most of which wouldn’t be out of place in a science lab – but it’s all hidden away. We don’t want our guests to concentrate on anything other the tastes they’re experiencing and the company they’re keeping. If you’re interested in the techniques or processes that have been applied to one of our cocktails, you know, feel free to ask one of our bartenders. I’m sure they’d love to rattle on about it.
However, If you give all the secrets away, I feel that you spoil the illusions and illusions are fun. Fun is why you’ve come to see us in the first place. We’ll show you a bit of leg but that’s all you’re getting! The idea of having loads of ugly lab equipment on the bar-top and the message that you’re potentially trying to convey with that, I dunno, it smacks a little vulgar and arrogant to me.
I can tell you a little about one of the new drinks that I’m the most excited about. You know that scent of rain hitting dry ground? That aroma is called, “Petrichor”. It comes from a secretion of oil from microscopic mosses and lichen that cover the ground. Most people find it absolutely delightful. We have a drink that tastes like that smell. It’s been in the concept phase for about six months but we finally got it right a few weeks ago. I can’t wait to see people’s faces.
Our beer menu is going to stack up pretty well too. I love geeking off with the guys from, “House of the Trembling Madness” (by far my favourite bar in York), “The Bottle” and “Pivni”. Beer’s important stuff! Do think we go drinking cocktails after a ten hour slog behind the stick!? Good beer all the way.
Q. Is there anything new you’re offering? Are you doing any food?
A. I almost forget to mention that we’re going to be a great little coffee shop, too. We’re going to roast our own beans on the premises. This means we can control that consistency again. You also get a beautiful cup of coffee and the flavour is unreal. We make all of our own soda syrups in-house too. These are really fun! So you’ll be able to see what you make of our expression of Cola, Italian Lemonade, Tonic water, Dandelion & Burdock, Ginger Beer, Root Beer and (my favourite) French Grapefruit soda. We think they’ll fly out this summer.
We’re going to tread very carefully with the food. Our Executive Chef, Michael, used to work at Noma in Copenhagen. For the past two years, Noma has been voted the best restaurant in the world. As you can imagine, with our Mike on the pots n’ pans, we’ve got great potential. Dude’s got some MAD knowledge about flavour. Initially, we’re just going to go with home-made pastries, cakes and sugar-work. Think “Betty’s of York” on acid without the jaw-dropping bill! We’ll let you guys decide what we should do in the future for something a little more substantial. We’re open to offers.
Q. How will The Blind Swine fit in with the existing bars of Swinegate?
A. It’s a great street! I think we’ve got the location bang-on. Not that there’s anything wrong with Goodramgate of course. I just feel like we’re a little closer to the action this time. I’d like to think that we add to the value of an already great street for food, drink and partying. We’re not here to rock boats. We’ll crack on and do our thing and hopefully people will think we’re just swell.
If that hasn’t whetted your appetite for The Blind Swine, I don’t know what will! James’ new venture is massively exciting, and will undoubtedly serve to add to the already colourful and diverse catalogue of bars, restaurants, eateries and cafes in the city. I’ll see you in there!