Having been entrusted to revamp the bar of 21 Crimes and its selection of offerings, it’s fair to say the past three months have proved incredibly hectic for manager Dean Cruden.
From heading a near brand new five-strong team to creating two new drinks menus which are set to launch next week, the spirits enthusiast took the challenge upon himself to enhance the city centre speakeasy.
Located within Union Street’s grill-restaurant Vovem, 21 Crimes is considered Aberdeen’s most exclusive and elusive bar, and is the first of its kind in the city.
Its entire concept is inspired by the 21 offences that resulted in deportation to Australian penal colonies in the 1920s, and boasts a distinct vintage-style interior.
This, met with the requirement to declare a password in order to gain entry, proves the venue is far from the ordinary and is sure to intrigue the masses, which included Dean himself.
And since bringing seven years’ of expertise in the drinks industry along with him earlier this year, the 21 Crimes team has had nothing but positive feedback on the changes that have been made so far.
He said: “I came here towards the end of February and was basically told to revamp the bar, do something really new with it and push it in a different direction to where it was heading before.
“Originally, the service was quite manic and I didn’t think the menu fitted the bar’s style in the right way. It was also very expensive, while the cocktail preparation time was incredibly heavy. You’d be spending at least four or five days prepping everything to launch drinks on the old menu, and if you ran out quite early on there was no way of creating a fresh batch of ingredients.
“I knew there was so much potential for it, so I tried to reduce the prep time a lot with the cocktails on our new menu, but still serve over the top and interesting drinks.
“We also decided to start our table service, which provides a personal experience for everyone who visits. This way, if someone orders a drink and they want to know more about the ingredients or story, we’ll happily sit with them and spend five or 10 minutes talking about it and explaining the idea behind it.
“I think customers really resonate with the style of service because it’s a bit different.
“My history is in classic cocktails, and alcohol and spirit knowledge, so that’s essentially what I’m trying to bring forward to 21 Crimes. And it’s now what the whole team is collectively trying to bring forward. We’re going for classic drinks with a modern presentation, and with the launch of our new menu coming up, I hope people see this when they take a look at the drinks.
“Up until this point, we’ve been doing daily menus consisting of five or six bartenders’ choice drinks. We rewrite these every morning, which used to take up quite a bit of time, but now we don’t tend to spend longer than 15 minutes with the process.
This means there’s a new menu every day and not one is similar to another.
“They’re all distinctive in their own way, so you won’t find the drinks we serve up here anywhere else. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun for us.”
Opting for offerings perfectly suited to the sheer style of 21 Crimes, each cocktail has been given its own unique story based on a particular felony.
Despite the abundance of eccentric creations on offer, the team always encourage customers to make their own cocktails, and are open to answering all queries on their eclectic menus.
“Since the changeover of the team, we’ve been given a lot of time to actually launch this new menu the right way,” Dean said.
“Every drink has a fictional background story linked to one of the 21 crimes, and we try to tie the two together as much as we can. For example, with our Arsonist cocktail, we’ve used ingredients to create a fiery drink.
“To do the process, we look into the history of the alcohol. We’re all fairly big alcohol enthusiasts and enjoy looking into the background of the spirits themselves, why they were created and who made them etc. We’ll also sit down and think about the alcohol we like, and then decide what crime would be best suited to it.
“Another change is opting for the new tableside-style garnishing service. To me, there’s no point in creating fun drinks at the bar when your customers are sitting in the far corner, so this makes it more intimate. And we’re also open to allowing customers to add their own touches to their drink or creating a completely new cocktail for someone if it’s asked of us.
“I heavily encourage people to go off menu and just talk to us about the flavours they like, how they feel that day or if they have any specific allergies.
“To me, a menu is just a guideline example of what we are capable of doing behind the bar to then encourage people to order something more out there and interesting.
“We’ve familiarised ourselves with nearly every bottle in the bar, so we know what works and what doesn’t. This not only makes the experience more exciting for customers, but also us as bar staff.
“Although we do love a bit of flamboyancy here, we never put a cocktail out just because of the gimmick. It’s always going to be centred on the drink alone because we’re very proud to present them. And then we’ll add a quirky garnish afterwards for that added special touch. We don’t want to offer full-on party cocktails – we’re rooted in the history behind our bar’s spirits.”
And if things weren’t already busy enough as it is, the group has decided to create an additional menu consisting of seven light pre-dinner drinks.
“We’ll be releasing another menu to go alongside the main cocktail-based one, which will be an aperitivo menu. This will be running during early hours and the drinks will be a lot lighter in order to cleanse your palate and get you excited for food,” said Dean.
“But since we’re so used to creating our daily menus, we’ll continue to make new specials every week. These will just be added on to our fixed 21 Crimes cocktail menu.
“Essentially, we’re trying to push the bar scene in Aberdeen as much as we can and hopefully we’re doing just that. It’s remained stagnant for a while, so it’s been a case of trying to break through that, and push what level of service we can provide to everyone that decides to visit and be a part of something completely different.
“We want to create an experience where people are comfortable and don’t want to leave, and feel as though they could sit here all night.
“A lot of regulars visit the bar week in and week out, and I love seeing new people and returning customers getting as excited about the spirits and drinks as much as we do.
“We all work really hard and constantly put a lot of passion into the bar. It’s the best team I’ve worked with, so I’m sure the positive feedback will keep rolling in.”