Like many Italians in London’s cocktail industry, Davide Segat worked his way up from menial jobs to positions of great standing. To the difference of many of his compatriots, though, he just didn’t want to come to London in the first place. Now, he has one of the finest CV in the city’s drinks scene and we’ve asked him to tell us how he got there…
Davide had dropped out of school and was making ends meet with various jobs. His then girlfriend wanted them to leave Italy and go to London. “At that point, I didn’t want to move, but she was insisting so much that I said ‘ok, let’s go and see how long I last’”. Over ten years it turned out: in spite of a difficult first year (“little English and little money”), Davide came to enjoy what he was doing. Typically, while studying the lingo, he worked at an Italian restaurant. After eight months, his English more assured, he moved to a better place where he started making cocktails and realized this might be something he wanted to keep doing. The reluctant mover decided to stay on…
From then on, it wasn’t smooth sailing. Even though Davide was growing to like his new career orientation, he still felt he needed changes. And they were harder to come by than he expected: “I swear I even applied to Prêt à Manger and they turned me down. So when I got offered a trial at the Connaught, I though ‘Oh well, this is not going to work, is it?’”. This was the Connaught pre-Ago Perrone. At the time, the boss was Brian Silva, an expat US bartender and a legend in his own right. And Silva took an instant shine to Davide: “I had a lucky break: Brian told me ‘I like you, you’ve got the job’. I couldn’t believe it”.
Like many young bartenders more or less self-trained at fancy places, Davide thought he was better than he was. “Working with Brian, I realized I didn’t know anything. It was a humble step back, a blank paper. I understood I had to do things the way Brian was telling me to”. A couple of years later, the Connaught closed for refurbishments. Initially, Davide followed part of the team to Miami, but soon came back to London (“They expected me to lead the bar, and I was only ready to be a bartender”) and settled at Dre Masso and Henry Besant’s Green & Red, a tequila bar that had become a beacon for the whole industry: “To this day, I met there 75% of the people I know. Tequila wasn’t well known, and bartenders would come to see what the fuss was about”.
From there, Davide moved to Hawksmoor, where he worked under the wings of Nick Strangeway. And it’s Strangeway who picked him in 2013 to become Bar Manager at his latest project, the Punch Room in The London EDITION Hotel. Four years and a few awards later, it’s a resounding success, but it wasn’t at all obvious that people would take to a bar that only does punches, an old, underappreciated and often misunderstood category. “If we weren’t where we are, it probably wouldn’t have worked. There are three bars in the hotel. There’s the restaurant bar. There’s the lobby bar, in this massive space – it’s loud, it’s busy, people are standing, it’s ideal to let loose. And then you have the Punch Room, sitting only, quiet, dark and cosy”, explains Davide. In essence, you can choose your atmosphere. But there’s still the question of the drinks. “It was challenging at the beginning. What we do is that we have a big bowl of punch of the day, always ready, and each guest is offered a glass. And it challenges their expectation. They realize how nice punches can be. Plus we have a full menu, explaining everything: the style of punch, the flavours, etc.” And although punches were made for sharing, the Punch Room offers individual serves, two persons bowl or, if you have many friends, a gigantic 100 serves bowl… The success of the space is such that future EDITION hotels (and there are quite a few on the way) will have their own Punch Room. Not bad for what was the riskiest bar at the initial project.
We’re pretty sure Davide, an avid traveller, will be on hands to teach the staff of the new locations how to sell punches to a suspicious public. We wouldn’t however put money on him leaving London: the reluctant Londoner now seems quite at home in Europe’s trailblazing cocktail capital.