The perfect mix
Take one of Hertfordshire’s finest hotels, add a dash of London’s cocktail scene, and you have the Octagon Bar. Absolutely meets the man behind it
The Octagon Bar at Sopwell House is something Hertfordshire has arguably not seen before. The venue boasts an ornate marble topped-bar accompanied by leather bar stools, vintage glass backed bar, and comfortable bar seating for couples and intimate groups. Authentic French doors stand to the side of the bar, offering views of the hotel’s picturesque front lawns. Accessed via a towering archway, an adjacent lounge features high ceilings, large velvet armchairs and two statement fireplaces, feature lighting and views out to the grounds from stained glass windows. This is even before you get on to the cocktail menu.
Absolutely pulled up a pew, ordered a drink and chatted to the man behind it, João Chitas.
When did you first develop an interest in mixology?
I first developed an interest in mixology when I moved to the UK from Portugal in 2010. My first position was at a bar back at The Soho Hotel and as my passion for mixology grew, so did my career. What fascinated me the most about mixology was the art of mixing spirits in such a way to create unique flavours and cocktails that are bespoke to each individual.
What kind of training do you have to undertake to be a master of mixing?
My training happened over the course of a decade, learning first hand, and working alongside, some of the greatest mixologists in the industry. Daniel Miles, my first manager In the industry, taught me how to make the perfect Sours; Pawel Matysiak, a great mixologist, taught me how to create a balanced bespoke drink; and Salvatore Calabrese, despite only working with him for a short time at Salvatores Bar at Playboy Club, showed me how professionality, sophistication and elegance can be infused into the bar industry. A special mention to Frederico Pinto (Freddy), who influenced me to become a part of this industry; without his influence I would not be here.
Tell us about your first job at The Soho Hotel…
It was a fast-paced environment, where I was surrounded by experienced bartenders who taught me how to be organized, how to offer great customer service, and how to perform under pressure. I was forced to learn very quickly.
Pre-Octagon Bar, what would you say have been your career highlights and why?
A career highlight for me was working as a manager at the Met bar in Mayfair, as it was my first experience as a bar manager. Working at Salvatore’s at Playboy Club is also an highlight, as it was the most luxurious and sophisticated bar I’ve ever worked.
What attracted you to the role at Sopwell House?
I was excited to have the opportunity to open my second bar and bring the London cocktail scene to Hertfordshire.
How would you describe Octagon Bar?
A touch of “Claridges” in St Alban’s – bringing elegance, sophistication and the London cocktail scene to Hertfordshire.
What is on the cocktail menu?
On the Octagon Bar menu you will find a curated list of classic and signature cocktails, as well as a creative list of mocktails. Expect 12 signature serves, each influenced by stories of Sopwell House’s evolution and its royal guests.
Do you have a personal favourite cocktail?
I enjoy a classic Pisco sour and from our menu the “Great Fire of London” – a twist on the classic Tommy’s Margarita with a touch of Japanese spices.
What kind of experience do you want to offer visitors to Octagon Bar?
I want our guests to come and enjoy unique cocktails without having to travel into London, served by a welcoming and passionate team in the cosy surrounds of Octagon Bar.