“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine”. In the immortal words of Bogart’s Rick Blaine in 1942’s classic film noir Casablanca, gin joints, cocktail lounges, bars – and the barmen who tend them – play an integral part in their customers’ relationships. And it’s Bogart’s white tuxedo that stands out strong, because so much of the bartender’s art is down to the way you look. The trick is to push any thoughts of Tom Cruise’s questionable wardrobe in Cocktail to the back of your mind and concentrate instead on quality classics that complement what already exists (I hope) in your wardrobe. So I’ve put together my ideal outfits for three typical bar settings. Looking good matters – so pick and mix away to find your ideal outfit from this selection, writes Esquire fashion director Catherine Hayward.
Much of the bartenders art is down to the way you look
1 Hotel bartender
Hotel bars attract the international crowd. Wealthy travellers, the formal business set and those seeking a high-end special occasion experience will gravitate towards the kind of bar service that’s traditional, discreet and expensive. Bartenders’ style should reflect this. Something sharply tailored is key: choose a three-piece suit from French designer The Kooples – or Savile Row tailor Nick Hart at Spencer Hart. The inspiration behind his look is the Rat Pack in Palm Springs circa 1960 – slick, slim fit and minimalist. In fact, any tailored suit in this environment should have a pared down feel with minimal accessories – maybe a knitted silk tie for texture or a slim bow tie for added gravitas. Take the jacket off and the waistcoat still looks smart if you’ve had it fitted properly – certainly nothing too loose and no visible shirt buttons below its hem line. Team with elegant, highly polished leather shoes – a black leather Oxford or a black single monk strap from John Lobb, Churches or Edward Green. Nick Hart also has a new range of slim fit tailoring available at Austin Reed – the cloth and the detailing are not quite as high spec as his own label but the price certainly reflects the difference.
a) A dark navy or a light blue wool slim fit three-piece suit by The Kooples. Or dark charcoal or an inky blue wool mohair slim fit three-piece suit from Spencer Hart.
b) A white shirt with double cuffs by Charvet. Or one with hidden placket and pleated bib front, from Richard James.
c) Silk ties in slate grey, light grey or navy, by Brunello Cucinello. Or knitted in chocolate brown, deep claret or dark bottle green – classic or bow by E Tautz.
d) Polka dot silk pocket squares – Thomas Pink.
e) Black leather Oxfords from John Lobb.Ordress shoes from Berluti.
2 Busy City Bar
Younger independent labels like J Lindeburg, Façonnable or Foxhall hit just the right level of semi-formality for a busy city bar with an after-work clientele letting off steam. Full-on tailoring feels far too stuffy for this environment. Instead, a semi-tailored single-breasted jacket in a lightweight seersucker from J Lindeburg works very well over smart chinos from Façonnable, who specialises in a modern fit. Over at Ben Sherman, a recent overhaul of their classics has produced a range of some of the best chinos on the market – a hint of Ivy League Americana detailing with a very flattering, modern fit. Again, keep shoes semi-formal in either a neutral suede or tan leather. After 20 years with Patrick Cox and Jimmy Choo, Irish shoe designer Maud O’Keeffe’s eponymous collection is focused on classic menswear designs with a Goodyear welted construction that makes them both comfortable and durable – surely an essential for bartenders on their feet all night.
a) Light blue single breasted seersucker jacket by J Lindeburg. Or a tailored technical blazer in chocolate brown from Foxhall.
b) Long sleeved polo fine gauge knit by John Smedley in charcoal, white or baby blue. Or a dark navy gingham shirt by Paul Smith.
c) Heavy duty cotton chinos by Façonnable. Or a slim fit chino by Plectrum by Ben Sherman.
d) Light suede double monk strap brogue from O’Keeffe. Or tan brogue by Grenson.
3 Speakeasy Bar
The very nature of the speakeasy bar – a downtown, on-trend spot frequented by young scenesters – means that rules are there to be broken, including the dress code. Out goes the tailoring and any nod towards formality and in comes the uniform of the very fashionable – the type of clientele who probably work in media, advertising or fashion who love an underground label or a designer collaboration and expect the staff to look the part. No jacket required here but pay attention to interesting details around collars, plackets, pockets and cuffs. Swedish label Acne does a proper line in heritage style granddad shirts, which are cool enough to wear alone although they layer well with old school sweatshirts and cardigans too. Sunspel, the effortlessly cool T-shirt choice of Daniel Craig’s James Bond, works in the same way. Jeans behind the bar are acceptable when they’re an inky dark indigo selvedge denim from APC and cut to fit like a trouser. And shoes needn’t be shoes in the formal sense at all. Red Wing’s new colour range of boots feel right as does cult underground New York label, Common Projects. Their minimalist white leather sneakers are a crisp and understated lesson in how to dress experimentally on the speakeasy scene.
a) Long sleeved navy or white granddad shirt with frayed neckline from Acne.Or Tiger of Sweden with a single pocket version.
b) White long sleeved T-shirt from Sunspel. Or a fine knit long sleeved Henley top from Toast.
c) Indigo dark jeans from APC. Or dark denim 511 cut from Levis. Also, a vintage style denim jean from Levis Made and Crafted.
d) Grey or dark red leather chukka boots by Red Wing. Or white leather minimalist sneaker by cult NY label Common Projects.
To paraphrase actor and bourbon aficionado Jack Nicholson in The Shining – some sartorial advice could make you “the best goddam bartender from Timbuktu to Portland Maine….or Portland Oregon, for that matter”. Happy shopping!
Look out for a rundown on the best bartending outfits for women, coming soon. But before that, tell us what you think of our selection, or about what you choose to wear at work…