Thirty-four-year-old Richard Grimsey is a career bartender who has risen through the ranks by dint of his own efforts and now occupies a senior position with the influential Browns Restaurants Northwest group in Derry-Londonderry.
Richard Grimsey, who comes from the Derry-Londonderry, oversees the drinks and cocktail offering at the upmarket Brown’s Restaurant on Bonds Hill and at Browns in Town on Strand Road. He took on the post just a couple of months ago, but he says it’s already helping him with skills development by forcing him to use ingredients that he’s never worked with before.
Like many in the bartending trade, Richard started out with aspirations of a career in an entirely different field. He was studying interior architecture at the North West Regional College when he took a part-time job on the banqueting staff at the City Hotel in 2001. He spent a little time at the venue as a wine waiter before transferring to the Waterfoot Hotel in the city’s Waterside area.
“That was my first proper turn behind the bar and I enjoyed it,” recalls Richard. “I’m not really sure what it was that I liked so much, but I did, it just appealed to me a lot more.”
As St. Patrick’s Day rolled around in 2002, Richard suggested to the bar manager at the Waterfoot that they introduce a special cocktail menu to help celebrate the occasion. They went ahead with this and although Richard admits that they managed to shift very few of their cocktail creations, he says the whole exercise was indicative of an obsession with self-improvement:
“I always want to know more,” he says. “I’m always on the look-out for books about bartending and I think that over the years, it’s been me pushing myself that has helped me develop more than anything else.”
In his early twenties, Richard re-located to Belfast for a time, working at the former Basin Bar in the Odyssey. He remembers that while the venue had only a very limited cocktail list, it was still more than he’d ever dealt with before:
“It just fuelled the fire,” he adds. “Now, I had more toys to play with and I stayed there for a year-and-a-half.”
He went on to work in a number of Belfast venues, including The Northern Whig, before a longing for home finally won out and he returned to Derry-Londonderry in 2009 and took up a post at The Strand Bar.
From there, he moved to the former Mandarin Karma where, for the first time, he was asked to put together a full drinks programme, before re-locating again to The Wolf Den, which quickly became The Wolf Shack, a cocktail-orientated restaurant that was well ahead of the curve in local terms. Richard worked between The Wolf Shack and its sister venue, The Diplomat Bar, planning drinks programmes, training staff and ensuring that standards generally were maintained.
“I was happy doing what I was doing, then the opportunity came up to work with the Brown’s group. They have a good reputation in the industry and the support structure was there to help me develop a more mature style, moving away from mass-produced saleable drinks to a more bespoke, technical offering.”
As for his ultimate ambition, Richard says that unlike many of his colleagues, he has no ambition to have his own place:
“I’d go crazy,” he says. “I’d be forever searching for perfection it would drive me insane. I prefer to do what I’m doing now creating drinks. I’m happy with that and just pleasing myself. Utimately, I’d love to roll out a drinks programme across the entire company.”
Aquam Ligno (Tree water)
50ml Boodles London Dry Gin
20ml Belvoir ginger cordial
20ml Fresh lemon juice
20ml Sugarsnap pea syrup
5 Fresh mint leaves
2 Barspoons greengage preserve
80ml Birch sap water
Shake all the ingredients with cubed ice, double strain over crushed ice and garnish with fresh mint. Enjoy!