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On Portobello Road, the beating heart of Notting Hill, it’s hard to stand out. Gen Z youths don psychedelic acid-dye t-shirts as an array of pastel-coloured Victorian townhouses look down upon them. The smell of Turkish coffee competes with Jamaican jerk, as fruit and cheese sellers swat flies away up their stalls. One street corner stands out as particularly full of life – De La Soul’s ‘Pain’ is pumping, animating a space where passers-by and locals alike pause to chat, glasses clink in the sunlight, and laughter echoes down the street. With such a relaxed atmosphere, you might not realise that you’re standing on hallowed ground. This is Trailer Happiness.
Known as one of London’s greatest rum bars, this multi award-winning Notting Hill institution – owned and run by the legendary Sly Augustin – has been serving up cocktails and good vibes since 2003.
We stopped by to chat to their bar manager Simon, to find out a little bit about his journey through the world of hospitality, how he got to Trailer Happiness, and his favourite moments in between.
Simon, thanks so much for having me! Let’s get started…
How did you get into the Spirits industry?
By dropping out of uni!
Like most people here, I moved to London after school, but I’d spent a year travelling beforehand, focusing on my fencing and getting into bartending. I actually used to stock up on Duty Free alcohol at airports, so by the time I got to uni I already had a bit of a collection!
I was studying chemistry at UCL, and whilst I did enjoy it, to be honest with you I didn’t think it was for me. I actually ended up spending most of my time mixing drinks for my flatmates – we lived in a house of 14 so I always had someone to be my guinea pig.
Over time people started to get wind of our little speakeasy, and we began to attract a bit of a crowd. By the end of the year, we had the whole building and more coming down to the apartment for their pre-drinks, which we were serving out of my front door. After all, why drink expensive and shitty drinks in a student bar when you could drink free and delicious drinks chez Simon? All we asked for is a cheeky tip!
At that point I realised, this is what I wanted to do. So, I ditched UCL and enrolled in the European Bartender School. After a year there and a couple interim jobs (the real world hits hard doesn’t it) I started at Merchant House, where I was lucky enough to learn from some fantastic mentors, in what was a serious institution. After a couple years there, I felt it was my time to move on – and then I found Trailer, and the rest as they say, is history.
Sounds like quite a journey! Got to ask – obviously Trailer is all about rum. When did you first get into your rum?
From the start rum was always the one for me. At Merchant House, we were taught to choose 1 spirit and completely own it. At the time I definitely wasn’t into gin, and whiskey didn’t really tickle my fancy. Rum stood out as the obvious choice, so I rolled up my sleeves and dived straight in!
I’ve got a really fond memory of Richard Seale’s Dominus Premise and 2004 launch at MH – one of the first times I really got to flex my newfound knowledge. Richard Seale came down and we got to try some exceptional rums – we were lucky to have those kinds of events going on, it really gave me experience and insight into the category.
What was the first rum you fell in love with then?
Professional answer? Appleton 12. One hell of a rum. Big at Merchant House. Other than that, Diplomatico was definitely one of my tipples of choice.
What’s your favourite style of rum?
Personally I’m a huge Jamaican fan – but I’m also super open to anything out there. It sounds a bit wanky but I appreciate all rums – funk, aged agricole, column, it’s all good to me. There’s such a breadth of styles in the category it would be silly to not keep an open mind!
But if I were to have to choose 2, I’d go for a well-aged agricole, or a proper 100% pot still Jamaican rum – nice and funky.
What do you think is the best rum for beginners to get into?
Appleton Signature, ever time. It’s dirt-cheap and it’s delicious. It’s well made, got a bit of funk, and no junk. Plus, it’s not overpowering, so if you’re a little intimated by the idea of rum, this one should ease you in nicely.
Pro tip – it’s always on sale at Tesco!
What’s your favourite type of cocktail?
Again, every drink is different and serves a different purpose. For example, now that I’ve learned to appreciate gin, I absolutely love a Martini – but I’m not gonna have one of those at 3 in the afternoon on a sunny beach. There’s such a diversity out there it would be a shame to miss out on any.
What was the first rum cocktail you fell in love with?
(Laughs) Can I say a Long Island Iced Tea?
They’re my absolute guilty, guilty pleasure. Bartenders shit on ‘em – I love ‘em.
Don’t get me wrong, most of the time they’re absolute trash – but you always know what you’re getting, and if you’re lucky and you find one that has quality ingredients in it, you can actually taste all the equal parts. I’ve always found that pretty cool.
What rum cocktail would you recommend a novice rum drinker?
It really depends on the direction you’re coming from. If you’re already an experienced drinker – let’s say you’re into your Whiskey – then I would do a twist on a classic - maybe a rum sour. Or, if you’re into your gin and like your martinis, I might go for an agricole martini.
If you’re a complete novice then go for the simple serves – a Daiquiri for a short drink, or a Hurricane for a long one.
What’s your favourite rum bar in London?
Trailer – I absolutely love this place.
It’s a little embarrassing, but the first time I came here was for a job interview. Trailer was hosting a Chartreuse Swizzle Session with Jody Griffiths, and as a joke I mentioned I would bring my CV. To my surprise, the guys said sure, so I came down, had my ‘interview’, and next thing I know I’m behind the bar!
The people, atmosphere and drinks here are next to none. Seriously, I can’t recommend it enough.
What are you most looking forward to in the summer of 2021?
Getting out there and checking out new venues and talent. Obviously, it’s been a terrible year for the industry. With so many closures and so many people on furlough, it’s been hard to stay positive at times.
But on the flipside, now that things are slowly getting back to normal, we’ve seen a ton of incredibly exciting new openings all over the UK. People have gone back home and started to work on their own projects, and the work is paying off.
Seeing as we’re probably not going to be able to go abroad any time soon, my next 6 months are going to be dedicated to discovering the UK and all its hidden gems. Lincoln, Cardiff, and Bristol – all these places are absolutely booting off, so they’re all definitely on my list.
I also feel like there’s a changing attitude in hospitality – people are taking things (and themselves) more seriously, and creating some incredible stuff. Lots of places are going from good to great, and I can’t wait to go check them out and meet the people behind them.
Simon thanks so much for your time. Final question for those reading this – when can we find you behind the bar at Trailer?
Weekends – we’re a small tight-knit team here at Trailer, so we all pull our weight when we have to! If you’re down on a Friday or Saturday, you’ll catch me whipping up some mischief for sure.
Make sure you head down to Trailer when you next can – and if you’re feeling brave, ask the main man for his namesake drink, ‘A Simon’s Downfall’. Trust us, it won’t let you down.
177 Portobello Road, London, W11 2DY