A Master Class in Menu Design

Illustrations by Gerald Scarfe. Photos by Addie Chin. (Scarfes Bar drinks book cover)

Paul McCartney. Prince George. Richard Branson. These and fifteen other notable British citizens appear on the pages of the first volume of Scarfes’ cocktail book, each accompanied by a pithy description and drawn alongside a cocktail representing or inspired by one of their achievements that year.

Macca’s coffee cocktail is a nod to his record deal with Starbucks in 2007. The young heir to the throne has a fruity, zero-proof cocktail (naturally). And the millionaire entrepreneur’s rum-based, tropical tipple deemed Neck It would be veddy perfect sipped on the island that he purchased as a getaway for himself and his friends. (It also fittingly happens to be a term used for drinking.)

The new menu at the 90-seat bar, which draws design elements from both a gentleman’s club and a drawing room, was the brainchild of the entire bar team, who dedicated around eight months to complete the different stages: brainstorming the concept, assigning team members to research famous figures, writing the copy and creating a flavor map, designing the drinks, selecting glassware, and formatting and assembly. A strategy calendar and deadlines helped keep them on track and allowed them to start teasing the media well before the rollout.

“Generating a buzz and hype prior to the launch help[s] to pique curiosity and boost visits to the bar to try out the brand-new selection of cocktails,” explains bar manager Martin Siska.

Scarfes Bar cocktail menu flavor chart

Also integral to the theme was procuring bespoke caricatures of selected icons from satirist Gerald Scarfe. Drawings from the bar’s namesake artist already flank the marble walls; the final iteration includes illustrations of all eighteen celebs along with pages that have been “vandalized” by Scarfes himself. And an included chart separates the drinks into four quadrants: “Fresh & Floral,” “Dry & Bitter,” “Fruity & Spiced” and “Sour & Sweet”; those closest to the border of each label align more strongly with that style, though there is crossover. But the chart is a handy way to help guests pinpoint the flavor that’s drawing them in on any particular evening.

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All the planning and execution was done to keep guests’ eyes and palates piqued. “We designed this particular menu to ensure that the guest experience within the bar remains fresh and stimulating, relevant for both first-time visitors as well as our most loyal returning guests,” Siska says. “It is also important for us to further develop our brand’s identity, with the aim to gain progressive recognition within the London bar scene.” An added benefit was that the various tasks involved—both in the manual and creative realms—served to sharpen individual skill sets, keeping motivation and morale high, and supporting employee retention since everyone had a vested interest and role in the final product.

Scarfes Bar at Rosewood London interior

It didn’t come without a price, though. Taking into consideration glassware, tools, equipment, bar stock, design, printing and photography, menu production cost between £40,000 and £50,000. (In U.S. dollars that’s between $52,000 and $65,000).

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The menu itself is meant to look as though it had been pulled directly from the shelf of leather-bound titles that surround the bar. “The physical aspect is a central part of the overall guest journey and experience for visitors to our bar,” Siska says. “From a design perspective, it should mak[e] the selection process as easy as possible [and] provid[e] entertainment value; for this we aim to design a menu which people actually want to steal or take home with them. After numerous requests to take one as a memento, staff now offers them for purchase so they can peruse and be delighted by the whimsical copy, and the sticky notes and postcards tucked within its pages at home.

Off the Market cocktail at Scarfes Bar

The stories, illustrations and drinks are all intrinsically linked within the pages and serve as a way for the bar to share brand messages (like their focus on sustainability) and references to pop culture and national affairs alike. The final entry is 2018’s Off the Market (£25), the current sitch of Prince Harry after “Meghan swaps Suits for satin and our fun-loving ginger nut prepares to leave his partying days”; it mixes Royal Salute 21 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky with Algarve figs, saffron and a “ginger effect.”

Zingy Stardust cocktail at Scarfes Bar

In this age of #Instadrink posts that need to stand out, they made sure cocktails would also photograph well and enhance their social media presence. Zingy Stardust (£17) is a David Bowie alter-ego reference and used to describe one with a lust for life. Elyx Vodka is shaken with a housemade “zingy cordial” (lime, zara lebu skin, lemongrass, shiso, makrut lime leaves and caster sugar) and Electric Bitters (which employ the tongue-numbing buzz button flower), garnished with a lightning bolt like the one painted on the musician on the Aladdin Sane album cover.

Doc. No. 9 zero proof alcohol free drink at Scarfes Bar

For bars looking to roll out a similar concept, Siska’s greatest advice is to make sure it is accessible not esoteric. “The collection of drinks should strike a strong balance between being interesting enough to entice trade connoisseurs regarding the inclusion of unconventional ingredients and mixology, but not so much as to intimidate our consumer guests.” It can take trends into consideration though; Scarfes’ menu speaks to the proclivity towards zero-proof drinks by including three options, like Doc. No. 9 (£11), a nod to Doctor Who, which has a base of Seedlip Garden, a non-alcohol botanical “spirit” that’s mixed with cucumber, green pea, avocado oil and the English herb lovage. “Our space-dust cocktail is non-alcoholic, so all time travellers will pass the Gallifrey breathalyser,” the page reads.

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The team has some other ideas up their sleeves, but Siska is tight-lipped about what they might be. Whatever they drum up next is sure to get guests talking. As Siska puts it, “in such a competitive market, it is crucial to provide something unique and to deliver a wow effect, with the cocktail menu harmoniously reflecting the overall concept of the bar.”

Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.