All photographs by Addie Chinn
That Jamie Jones, Group Bar Executive of The Social Company, is a clever so-and-so. Not only did he task himself with creating a drinks menu that would change the way people interact with cocktails, he’s only bloomin’ well gone and brought his vision to life.
He’s done it by creating Mirage, the world’s first augmented reality menu. And yes, it really is every bit as ingenious as it sounds… Combining elements of the most popular modern pastimes – you know, things like tapping into the latest bits of tech, drinking cocktails with friends and sharing ‘my life is better than yours photos’ of food and drinks in glamorous locations, the menu is destined to be an instant hit when it launches at City Social in London next month. Jones and City Social Bar Manager, Tim Laferla together with the very bright minds at Mustard Designs have spent the last 18 months making sure of it.
How it works is this: when you make a booking at City Social, you’ll be sent a link and invited to download the Mirage cocktail app ahead of your visit. Nothing too unusual about that perhaps but it’s when you arrive at the venue and order your drink that said app comes into its own. Each of the 12 cocktails on it is presented on a special coaster, point your phone or tablet in its direction and before you can say ‘blow my mind’, it starts to augment into intricate moving illustrations, framing your cocktail and creating a mesmerising mini movie – it literally does bring your drink to life.
Move your phone in to check out the colour, texture, lines and detail, pull it away and watch a 30 second scenario come into play. Marvel at it, save the images to your phone, then go social. Heck, you don’t even have to do a hashtag – the app does all of that for you. It really is a stroke of pure genius. Better still, it’s heaps of fun.
Is it just a gimmick we hear you cry? To which we reply, wash your mouth out! This menu is so much more than cheap thrills and instant hits. We took the lift to the 24th floor of Tower42 for a private audience with Jones and Laferla to play with Mirage for ourselves. We even prised ourselves away from our phones and stopped sipping the extremely quaffable drinks and managed to ask Jones a few questions…
An augmented reality drinks menu, that’s quite some feat. How did the idea come about?
Like most good things it started over a meal with a friend – a special effects designer for Hollywood films. The conversation turned to whether augmented reality could be utilised in a drinks menu. After I realised that it hadn’t been done, I wanted to make it happen.
Thinking about a big idea like this is one thing, implementing it is something else entirely. Was it a pain to get it to work?
Not really. Basically I started with the idea of a free to download app and a piece of white paper and I went to Jason [Atherton, head honcho of Social Eating Group], and told him that it was what I want to do. Even though he may not have known exactly how it would come together, he was incredibly supportive, so the rest was a natural evolution of ideas between Tim and myself.
And partnering with a like-minded design company?
Of course. The execution of the tech was there but we needed a company who ‘got’ all of the elements. We hashed out all of the pitfalls in the beginning, then fine tuned them, taking into consideration things like instant load, making sure that the coasters work even when wet, and the lighting – most people will be using the app during the evening, so we had to factor in capturing the images in the dark. Mustard Designs have been brilliant. The coasters are sustainable: they wipe clean; light up in the dark and really importantly, mean I don’t have to pack up loads of kit when I’m travelling doing demonstrations. I have the app and some coasters and I’m good to go!
What was the starting point for the menu?
At its height Artesian was renowned for its big, beautiful, theatrical serves – you had to go there to see, experience and ultimately photograph the drinks. I wanted that ‘wow’ factor but I knew I couldn’t put those kind of serves in the Michelin-starred restaurant environment that we have here. At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, there’s White Lyan [r.i.p]. The execution, complexity and technique that went into the making of their drinks was incredible but they were served in such a stripped back, naked format so the focus was purely on the drinks. I wanted to combine the best of both of those elements to appeal to our clientele. Here in the City, much of our customers are business boys in their suits – they like their classic cocktails with nothing growing out of them. However, in the evening the crowd want more of an experience. I wanted to explore a way to keep both parties happy.
By keeping the drinks stripped back and elegant but bringing the theatrical element into play via the app. The guest can engage as much or as little as they want.
Give us the lowdown on how it all works?
The menu is called Mirage – the idea being, it’s something you can see but isn’t really there. When you make a booking, you’ll be sent a link and invited to download the Mirage app ahead of your visit. Once you’re in the bar, you order your drink which comes on its own special coaster, then you capture and share the image via the app. Everyone has their phone with them these days so why not embrace that? It’s fun to play with the app and share the photos but ultimately, we’re serving 12 very delicious drinks.
Speaking of which, you haven’t just bunged 12 drinks on the list, there’s a real rationale behind the menu. Can you tell us about it?
Jason collects art and art is important to us as a company, so it’s good that we can tie that up. The menu and each animation takes the drinker on a journey through time inspired by different styles of artworks from Mayan and Victorian to Pop and Avant-Garde, with ingredients and recipes to match the era. For instance, the menu starts at 500 CE (that stands for Current Era – we didn’t want to go with Before Christ so as not to offend anyone!) The drink is inspired by the Mayans, so we’ve used Zacapa rum from Guatemala and blended it with cacao nib bitters which are indigenous to the Mayans, then added salted honey and walnut oil for a rich, silky mouthfeel. Essentially, it’s an Old-Fashioned but like all of the cocktails on the menu, we want to offer our customers something they’re familiar with while pushing their tastebuds a bit further.
So this isn’t a ‘bartender’ menu?
Not at all, although anyone with an appreciation for cocktails can enjoy it. All of the drinks are inspired by the classics – I can honestly say that it’s the best menu we’ve released flavour-wise, the visual effects are a bonus.
What about the killjoys who don’t want to engage with the app?
Technology aside, there’s a real story behind the menu – we’ve put an incredible amount of effort into flavours and pairings and combinations of the drinks. Visually they’re all stripped back and naked, they’re very elegant in that sense but using technology, you’ll be able to bring your drink to life in front of your eyes. We think this is the ultimate drinking experience – it’s not about solitary drinking, it’s about talking and sharing your experiences with friends.
Mirage launches at City Social in May. To find out more and make bookings see citysociallondon.com