Adrian Gomes the man behind Aberdeen institution The Tippling House has a wealth of experience in hospitality and the enduring success of The Tippling House reflects his passion for the industry. He also runs events company 10 Dollar Shake, which was actually set up two years before he established the bar, and he has just taken the keys for a new venture in Langstane Place.
But it all could have been so different because while at University it was an Architectural Technology degree that he embarked on, coming out of it six months before he was due to graduate, much to his parent’s dismay.
It has been a decision he regrets not one iota, saying, “There are easier ways to make money but few of them are as self-fulfilling as hospitality nor do they give as much enjoyment. It is a lifestyle, one which I champion.” Mind you the last few years have been enough to put anyone’s commitment to the industry to the test. Adrian smiles, “If you had said five years ago that the words ‘pandemic’ and ‘war’ would be part of everyday conversation people would have thought you were mad. Pandemics were things that happened elsewhere not here.”
They say every cloud has a silver lining and that was the case with Adrian because he was prepared for the pandemic when it did come due to a few years of watching the pennies. He explains, “We had opened our second venue, Rye & Soda, in 2014 but we had to close it in 2018. It was just a money pit, and we had to subsidise it through 10 Dollar Shake and The Tippling House. No matter how hard we worked it felt like we were treading water. I decided to close it.
“Then came the pandemic and because we had already been on a long prolonged period of cost-cutting, and justifying every bit of expenditure we were well equipped to deal with it and I was mentally ready for it too. That was probably the reason that we didn’t pivot during the pandemic. I knew that we could survive with the help of furlough and a business grant. Other businesses pivoted very successfully and did deliveries, but I don’t regret the route we took.
“In fact, the business climate today feels more uncertain. It feels like a lot has happened in the last year – reopening, the loosening of restrictions and now the economic turmoil. We got used to the rollercoaster and we learned how to maximise the openings. Now we have gone from relief at getting back to normal – to the reality of more uncertainty without the framework of covid grants and support.
“If people don’t have the money to go out all the marketing and events we do may not have any effect! Our figures are certainly down on our pre-pandemic figures – but not significantly. However, what I have noticed is our inability to predict how trade will be on any one night of the week. It used to be more consistent, we would be able to predict with a 10% swing, now one Tuesday we could be really busy, and the next it will be quiet.
“It changes week to week, which makes it hard to staff up, and hard to understand. I feel like I am learning my job all over again.
“However I think over the last 10 years I have developed an inner stability which means I don’t stress about the quiet weeks. I try and enjoy the quieter times because I know it doesn’t last long. It is the same with our event business. We don’t get any enquiries for two weeks then we get four in a day.
“I still look for trends, and downward declines but I celebrate the growth and the upward curves more so. I like to know we are bucking the trend. I am certainly less stressed about business stuff now that I am in my 40s – it’s a far cry from the early days when I took everything personally. Now I know August is always quiet, people are generally not going to come out to our basement bar on a sunny day. So I quietly pray for rain.”
“10 Dollar Shake is the oldest part of the business, founded in 2010, and the two businesses work side by side but also independently. They are two separate brands although a lot of people know they are connected.
“Having the two businesses gives us more protection against swings in consumer habits and external factors. I feel lucky that both balance each other out. I have thrown myself into the events over the last year or so to ensure that the business stays strong and we have been busy – we have had a lot of weddings, and distillery events are coming back too. There are also signs that corporate events are beginning to return as well. But as usual, at this time of year, the event business starts to tail off and I get to put more of my time into organising events at The Tippling House.”
This year with the 10th celebrations he has plenty planned. But first of all, there is Aberdeen Cocktail Week which was just about to start when we talked. Says Adrian, “I think it is great that we now have our own Cocktail Week which has been set up by Gregor Sey.
“We have got involved and have two great events on – Bramble is doing a takeover and we are also hosting the official closing event. The Tippling House has always been quite a trade focused bar, we have lots of regulars, and we also get lots of off-duty bartenders too. We tend to organise events which appeal to both.”
Despite being a trade-focused bar, Adrian struggles with understanding the new breed of bartender and their expectations of people coming into the industry.
“I’m not sure whether it is my age, but having started out in the industry nearly 20 years ago, when it was the case if you weren’t sweating at the bar on a Friday or Saturday you were not working hard enough – there has been a shift of gear. Today it is an entirely different culture. I can’t really understand why it has changed people so drastically, but there is no doubt about it, the culture change is here to stay. It has changed the work ethic. How long shifts should be and what gear you should be operating in.
“I remember when I started out working in Cafe Ici, it was one of only two style bars in Aberdeen and I felt privileged to have got a job there. But I was a burden to the team there – I couldn’t use the coffee machine, and I didn’t serve customers quickly enough. I was bullied for six months until I perfected it, but I wanted to make them respect me. I sucked it up and won them over and I stayed there for five years. “Today it is good going to get people to stay for five years, I’m lucky my manager Joe has been with me that length of time. Usually, managers stay for between three and five years, but as for part-time staff – the turnover gets higher and higher. People have a different mentality now. It is hard to adapt to it, but I am trying.
“Business-wise one of the things I am most proud of is that I have never waivered in terms of commitment to standards and quality and doing things a certain way. We have refurbished The Tippling House twice, and when you walk in today you will get the same level of service, quality drinks and quality food. It’s not better, but just as good.
“When we opened I made up a Doorman’s Charter. We didn’t allow fancy dress hen parties, but neither did we require customers to dress up. We were more interested in the person inside the clothes. We have not relaxed these terms in any way and we still don’t do discounted drinks, although we do have a special price for the trade. We have not moved with the trends, and we have not changed our business model – it has been consistent and I think this is why we have stayed the course and it has allowed us to appreciate the good times, and ride out the bad times. That can be as good as adapting.
“The Tippling House is a service-led venue that is relaxed and friendly. We welcome people in as if it was their own home.”
I asked Adrian if he had been mentored through the years. He hasn’t but he has learned and been supported by his peers. “I was a late bloomer. I didn’t come into the trade until my late 20s. At the time there were a lot of brand ambassadors who came to Aberdeen and did training.
“I remember thinking their side of the business was so cool. They got to travel and had great experiences. I attended trainings by people like Matthew Dakers, Ben Reed (Met Bar, London), Andy Gemmell, Scott Gemmell, Mal Spence and Jamie Mac… and many more. They raised the bar in Scotland. I still have a lot of fun catching up with some of these guys.
“Brand ambassadors today don’t have the experience they used to. It seems to me that the people out there training sometimes have less knowledge and experience than those they are training. Training of value does still happen but you have to sift through the volume to find the nuggets. I think that’s why training is now, generally, poorly attended. You may get a free drink, but you learn nothing but brandissued propaganda.
“One of the best I’ve seen recently was by Mike McGinty of Bacardi – he did some tequila training at 99 Bar & Kitchen and had 40 people there. He won the Patron Perfectionist competition a while ago, and you feel that he has knowledge that is worth tapping into.
“It is also important to network with people in this industry. It has long been a bugbear of mine that chefs don’t appear to do the same, compared to the drinks industry. Bartenders love going to other people’s bars, but chefs don’t want to eat out on their night off. They are more insular.”
Adrian himself has gone into brand consultancy work and has worked with the likes of Isle of Harris Gin, and now Cutty Sark. “I have an affinity with vintage blends such as J&B, Chivas and Cutty Sark because my dad has always liked a blend.
“I am working with the latter as it is relaunching in the UK. It has always been a big export brand and was the first whisky to sell a million cases in the US. I’m doing a drinks advocacy role for them called ‘Unclipped.’ The aim is to let people know about blends, particularly about the grains, not just the malts. We break down the components and do a short version with seven samples and a long version with nine. It has been fun working on it with the Glen Turner team.”
There are many strings to Adrian Gomes’s business life, but what is so engaging is his passion for all parts of the trade – cocktails, bartenders, events, whisky, gin, training … the list is endless. And now he has another project to get his teeth into. He tells me, “I’ve just got the keys to another venue in Aberdeen. This time I have bought a building in Langstane Place, next door to Orchid. I’m not sure exactly what concept I will be putting in, but it won’t open until March or April next year.” Aberdeen’s fortunes may now be on the up due to the rise in oil prices, but what is for sure is that Adrian is well equipped to make the most of any silver linings.