An inconspicuous bar on Mare Street, serves up some of East London’s most innovative cocktails, earning the drinking den a near cult status among connoisseurs. Alex Harris is the man behind the alchemy and an early pioneer of locally sourced, seasonal beverages that also happen to taste sublime
If it wasn’t for the fact that his dad was recently divorced and, wanting to enjoy the single life, needed to get his teenage son out of the house in the evening, Alex may never have become one of the capital’s top mixologists. “He enrolled me on this cocktail-making class,” laughs Alex at the memory. “That lead me into the industry and I ended up working as a barman for the Soho House Group, and went to Babington House when it first opened.”
It was while at Babington that Alex became friendly with the gardener, so when his boss set him the challenge of coming up with a new cocktail menu, it was to his green-fingered pal he turned. “Through him I learned about seasonality, and that’s when I realised that it’s something that is just as applicable to cocktails as it is food,” he says.
This revelation lead him to create a new cocktail, which Alex describes as a “cucumber, gimlet, martini thing” that his boss then submitted to Hendrick’s Gin. “They put it on the website as their cocktail of the summer, and that’s when I realised that I could really be on to something.”
But before he was to throw himself fully into mixology, there were a few detours, first as a sound engineer at various nightclubs and then a stint as a music technology teacher. In 2012 he hit upon the idea of running record fairs with pop-up bars attached, thus marrying his two passions, and so the genesis of Behind This Wall was born, named after a piece of graffiti he would pass every day on the commute to his teaching job.
Today, the bar attracts musos and imbibers in equal measure, with a turntable available to all and sundry. It makes for a great atmosphere and one that’s attracting punters from far and wide. “The other week we had these people from Amsterdam in who’d heard about us through the grapevine, which is great,” says Alex.
“Everyone on the team is driven and passionate about what they’re doing, and we’re constantly pushing ourselves to do something a bit different,” he adds.
And to prove his point, he tells me about a recent fact finding mission to Helsinki, where he came up with a whole new concept for a bar. “It’s really cool, unlike anything out there already and completely different from Behind This Wall,” he says. “I love the chaos of creating something new, whether it’s cocktails or bars – it’s what really motivates and inspires me.”
Basement, 411 Mare Street, London, E8 1HY