Steve Manktelow on the fun, excitement and mystery of the GOAT in Chelsea
Douglas Blyde speaks to Steve Manktelow on a career in bars and cocktails that has seen him work with legends like Dick Bradsell to running his own operation at the GOAT in Chelsea.
What is your background?
I worked in bars since age 17, beginning at “The Rock Garden”, Auckland. When the Whitbread Round The World yachts docked, I drudged through double shifts. But, even on a rare morning off, my boss still summoned me in. “Dude, I just worked a week which destroyed me,” I protested. “Just trust me – come,” he urged. When I got in, U2 was singing “Where The Streets Have No Name”. Despite my exhaustion, I remember thinking I had the world’s coolest job.
What did you study?
Engineering. And the day after I graduated, having written a paper on fluid mechanics and satellite imagery, I moved to London. That was 1997. I could only get causal work on my two-year work visa. However, I soon started to enjoy bartending, working with legends, Dick Bradsell and Chris Edwards at Damian Hirst’s “Pharmacy”, Notting Hill. When my Visa expired, I went backpacking along the Silk Road, sleeping in some pretty disgusting places, before returning to London to work at “Eclipse”, Walton Street. After that I got pulled into opening “Cocoon” (now Hawksmoor). Before long, I’d moved into an operations role at head office. But that was not for me. After spending an hour-and-a-half trying to find the correct replacement for a cracked toilet seat one day, I decided to return to a floor position which was much more enjoyable. As one of the managers of “Boujis”, I got together with my wife, Katia.
The GOAT in Chelsea offers New York style dining
What inspired GOAT’s design?
Soho House’s “Pizza East”, which does a lot of things very well. I interviewed 13 designers in total whose work had been applauded by the London Bar & Restaurant Design Awards. Every one had strengths and concepts. Some offered grand architectural plans while others obsessed over fire extinguishers and exit routes. Although I realise its importance, as soon as people mention health and safety, my eyes tend to glaze over. Another was super determined to talk about air conditioning flow and extract…
When did you open?
March 28th, 2013, which was quite probably the worst day of my life. With paying customers in the house, everything that could go wrong seemed to go wrong. I’ve never had to apologise to so many people for so many reasons. We closed to take stock of matters the following day. We’ve since been through a lot of head chefs (I’m now on number six). They have, respectively, been over ambitious, suffered a mental breakdown, been laid back to the point of not caring. And another left to pursue a career in bread.
What is your menu’s theme?
New York Italian, with most dishes focused around our wood-fired pizza oven. You might see ingredients like lobster on one of our pizzas, or summer truffles.
Describe the calibre of your clientele?
Having been in Chelsea for 14 years, I think it is one of London’s nicest areas to work in London an employee. Okay, it’s not as exciting as the West End, but it’s also less pretentious and more relaxed, with a village feel. I’ve made many friends here including Henry Palmer of Elephant Gin, who lives around the corner.
Who are your favoured wine suppliers?
I take advice from my good friend, Dawn Davies, wine buyer for Selfridge’s. Dawn recommended Berkmann, who have become our core supplier, as well as 45:10, Enotria and Mentzendorff. In terms of spirits, I mostly use Amathus because of my good relationship with owner, Harry Georgiou. I remember him getting on a forklift to personally bail me out of what could have been a supply catastrophe at a polo event some years ago. He’s always been straight up and fair on mark-ups with me.
What advice do you have for wannabe operators considering opening in the capital?
Take as long as you can before you open the door. We were able to run this site in its previous incarnation as “Goat in Boots” for six months before undertaking the refurbishment. We changed hands on 28th July, 2012, the day after the Olympic torch was passed through London. I left home to transfer the money not knowing the streets would be full of throngs. So the sale was delayed a day. As an owner, you must be as hands-on if it is your only or first site, as close to 24/7 as you can. I managed to reduce our staffing bill by 60% from when we opened to now. I didn’t have anywhere to trial staff meaning I chewed through a lot of staff on account of being unable to hire better. Initially we had a reception team of four; now we have none. And our kitchen team started at 15 (now reduced to seven). 2013 was nerve-wracking; I didn’t’ sleep so well. Also, don’t bother too much about the aesthetics when it comes to the men’s toilets!
What suppliers do you recommend for furniture?
The best website in the world is www.churchantiques.com, form which I sourced our pulpit turned DJ booth.
Is it true there is a “secret bar” at GOAT?
I remember being bewitched by stories as child about secret passages. The “Chelsea Prayer Room”, for which only the staff have the access code, sees spirits kept in medicine bottles from the 1800s. And the menu is an actual pop-up book. We also have a mural by a graffiti artist referencing George Morland. Legend has it he swapped his not inconsiderable bar tab with the publican of the Goat In Boots in exchange for his services to paint the original hanging sign outside. We’ve also got cabinets of books offering a snapshot of life for bartenders over the years. My favourite book is not about cocktails but the adventures of Tom and Jerry from the 1850s. An eggnog-like cocktail was named after that best-selling book.
What are your final thoughts?
Essentially we’re running five different businesses in one at GOAT, from the downstairs private dining room to the outdoor space, restaurant, main DJ show-bar and of course the secret bar. It has taken eight months to really get around how the spaces work and how, precisely to operate them. However, I would still quite like to have a herd of venues under the GOAT moniker one day…