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Stratford: How Jim And Tonic plans to use Sugar House Island to make gin and rum

Takeover of The Print House at Dane’s Yard includes bar, restaurant, terrace and two distilleries

From left, Jim And Tonic COO Mark Warren, founder Jim Mark and distiller Hendré Barnard – image James Perrin

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A lot can happen in six years.

A long-time fan of gin and tonic, Jim Mark had been on a skiing holiday to Norway and experienced the drink in a new way.

He was served big glasses with quality contents (think Williams Elegant Gin and Fever Tree Tonic), topped off with a variety of garnishes.

Before long he was gently slurring the words “Jim and tonic” and a business idea and brand name were born.

“That experience got me thinking about getting these flavours to everybody and so I bought jimandtonic.com for £20 – that was the beginning,” said Jim.

“We started in 2016 with one van – Genevieve – having agreed to trade on a golf course at a corporate event. 

“It was on a whim really, an idea to try and build a company that was about bringing wonderful gin and tonics with crazy garnishes to people, which not many had seen at the time. It went down really well.”

The day was such a success, in fact, that further sporting events followed as the fledgling company built its business from a mobile base.

“Then we got into Mercato Metropolitano, at Elephant And Castle, which was our first permanent bar,” said Jim.

“That’s where our main distillery is and it really helped our business.”

Jim And Tonic garnished with cucumber and lavender

Further expansion followed, including a partnership with brewery German Kraft, which brings us to 2022.

Jim And Tonic recently took over The Print House at Sugar House Island in Stratford and is in the process of creating a blockbuster home for the brand.

In addition to an extensive outdoor terrace, indoor bar and restaurant, there will be two distilleries – one for gin and one to create rum.

There’s also an events space and plans for a botanical rooftop garden on one of the two buildings the company has taken over.

“We visited this place and fell in love with it – it feels like an open space,” said Jim.

“In terms of hospitality, I think the area is underdeveloped – there’s not much of an offering for people.

“But these are lovely buildings, right by the water – there’s the outside space and we can make this a place that’s great for all.

“We’re a distillery but we want to create great spaces – boutique shops and bars for people to come and enjoy their gin and tonics.”

Located a short walk from Pudding Mill Lane DLR station, Sugar House Island is towards the Bow end of Stratford High Street. 

Jim And Tonic’s patch sits in Dane’s Yard, right on the banks of Three Mills Wall River Weir – a stretch of water that forms a triangle with the River Lea and Pudding Mill River.

With a plethora of wooden benches to choose from, lit by white bulbs strung above them, a bar on an open-top bus and a 40m, multicoloured tower lit by some 600 LEDs, Jim And Tonic makes the area an immensely attractive proposition.

And that’s before you even get to the stuff it serves.

Bar staff sharpen up their skills – image James Perrin

“At the moment we’re producing four gins, and a couple of other products, including a Ugandan project with a water charity to fund wells in Africa,” said Jim And Tonic distiller Hendré Barnard.

“We are a sustainable urban distillery, so we try to source as many ingredients locally as possible.

“Our London dry, for example, has botanicals that can be found within the M25. We also try to work with community gardens, that supply us with ingredients we use in the gin. 

“Our Roobee pink gin uses honey from urban apiaries, literally made in the capital.

“What really sets us apart is that we’re small scale compared to other so-called craft distilleries.

“We produce very small batches but we are looking to grow our sales to both consumers and businesses.

“We’ve got big plans and that’s one of the reasons we came here – to have a brand house, so that people can experience the process, do distillery tours, tastings and allow people to get their hands dirty to a certain extent, so they can see what we do and how we do it.

“We’re also going to be making new products for this area, speaking to the community and using local ingredients.”

One of those new products will be a first for Jim And Tonic – Sugar House Rum.

“Rum’s my favourite spirit and it’s really growing as a category,” said Jim And Tonic COO Matt Warren.

“As well as the distilleries over in the Caribbean, you can see a lot of variations with spiced rums, flavoured rums, and as a result it’s becoming a more popular drink. 

The Print House features an extensive terrace area
The Print House features an extensive terrace area

“It’s great for mixing cocktails and it’s an area that really interests us because there’s a bit of a scene in the UK now.

“Here, we want to expand what we’ve done already, to bring that same vibe we’ve created at other venues to Stratford, with good quality products and music. 

“This is an area that’s developing massively, with offices moving in and a lot of residential property.

“We want to make Jim And Tonic a great place to come, have a drink and some nice food – we have a really great chef here.

“Then add to that distillery tours, gin blending classes and events so we can do private bookings.

“We’ve already had our first wedding, so that’s something we want more of – a full calendar ranging from things like Yoga and community get-togethers to networking events and Oktoberfest.”

With all that in the pipeline, and Jim’s plans to create some kind of gin-on-tap system that delivers spirits at the press of a button, this is a place to try sooner rather than later.

The Print House is also home to Jim And Tonic's bar on a bus
The Print House is also home to Jim And Tonic’s bar on a bus

Read more: How Third Space helps Wharfers make the most of their time

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com

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Deptford: Why Bluethroat in Deptford Market Yard wants to make a name for itself

Bar and restaurant run by brothers Ari and Landi Mucaj is keeping its focus on quality drinks

Landi, left, and Ari Mucaj of Bluethroat
Landi, left, and Ari Mucaj of Bluethroat – image James Perrin

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Deptford Market Yard’s arches are typically filled with magic. It might be the ramshackle ephemera of Little Nan’s, the slick seafood of Sharkbait ‘N’ Swim or the wholesome cafe cuisine of Dirty Apron.

All of theses businesses pulse and buzz with the passions of the people behind them. It’s why the area draws ever increasing numbers of people seeking independent places to hang out.

It’s also why Bluethroat’s owners thought their idea could work.

Brothers Landi and Ari Mucaj had been talking about starting a business together since 2013.

“I’ve lived in Deptford since 1997 and I’ve worked in many central London bars,” said Ari.

“I started working as a kitchen porter and then got a job as a chef, which I did for about three years.

“I’d finish work about 10.30pm and then go behind the bar and wash glasses for fun. I fell in love with being behind the bar and that’s what I’ve done ever since.

“I’ve worked mostly in central London in places like the Cuckoo Club and Chinawhite and I ran the bar at Maddox for about six years.

“Every time Landi would come to see me in central London he would always say: ‘We should do this ourselves’.

“That was really my plan all along, at least for the last 10 years, trying to save up and do it.”

In 2018 Ari quit his job and teamed up with Landi, who had been in Deptford himself since 2001, to look for premises.

Guests at Bluethroat in Deptford Market Yard
Guests at Bluethroat in Deptford Market Yard

“We were searching and then we thought, what better place than Deptford?” said Landi.

“We’d seen a lot of changes in the area over the years, so when we saw an opportunity here, we thought it would be the best place to build something.”

The brothers took one of the larger brick arches at Deptford Market Yard, more or less next to the train station itself, and set about doing just that.

“Instead of doing it somewhere else, we thought it’s just around the corner, we can walk home and it’s the perfect place,” said Ari.

“We found this fantastic space here – it was a shell when we got it and we’ve built it from scratch.

“It took about a year to build it – we didn’t know anything about doing that so the fact we have this location and that we’ve created it from scratch is crazy, but it feels amazing.”

Landi added: “I fell in love with it really – the whole experience of setting up a business. It’s had its ups and downs and it probably took us longer to open than most other places, but we learned a lot in the process.”

Landi Mucaj pours a drink
Landi Mucaj pours a drink – image James Perrin

Unfortunately things didn’t go quite to plan. Just days after Bluethroat opened its doors, the first national lockdown came into force and they slammed shut.

Like many hospitality businesses, the brothers have since been riding a rollercoaster of uncertainty, most recently closing at Christmas as the responsible thing to do, despite the lack of official government direction to do so.

With restrictions lifted, however, both Ari and Landi can’t wait to run their cocktail-focused establishment unfettered. 

“This is the first chance we’ve had to run in a normal market, there’s been a lot of opening and closing,” said Landi.

“Our plan remains very much the same and it’s about refining our formula.

“Firstly, we’re really passionate about our drinks, delivered with great service. We’re also a very good restaurant.

“We are a place where people can come and chill out and have some really good cocktails.”

Bluethroat also serves food
Bluethroat also serves food

Walk into Bluethroat  and that focus is unmistakeable. The bar’s shelves are laden with spirits, ready to be whipped into a multitude of alcoholic concoctions.

“This is where my brother’s experience comes in,” said Landi. “We have about 11 drinks on our menu, all of which we’ve created for Bluethroat.

“There are boozy ones and lighter drinks, some that are bitter, fruity, bitter, sweet and sour – something for every taste.

“We are constantly working on the list and evolving it, but we really enjoy asking customers what they like and then building something for them.”

Bluethroat – named for a small member of the thrush family with a distinctive blue collar and a powerful song – also develops seasonal drinks, with two of its four spring specials already in hand.

“Customers will always find something new,” said Landi. “We’re getting ready to launch one made with Haku Vodka from Japan. 

“We just love the taste of this spirit, made completely from rice, and we mix that with a bergamot liqueur and blackcurrant to make a sweet drink with a hint of spiciness. We think people are really going to like it.

“The second cocktail we’ve created for our spring menu is based on whisky with a fig liqueur and mulberry syrup. 

“We make pretty much all our own syrups in the bar using a range of techniques such as sous vide and hot and cold infusion.

“The drink has a creamy taste and we also infuse the whisky with violet leaf to give it a beautiful aroma when you’re drinking it.”

Ari added: “When we opened, I gave Landi a crash course and now he’s a genius behind the bar. One of our challenges since opening has been finding bartenders with experience.

“But I think local bars are taking over in terms of quality – you can find cocktails that are as good here or in places like Hackney, as you will get in Mayfair.

“I worked in central London for 20 years and the quality here is no different. 

“You are seeing people who are going out locally to get this, instead of making the journey in.”

Bluethroat is locate in Deptford Market Yard
Bluethroat is locate in Deptford Market Yard

While its extensive collection of bottles, rich brown hues and speakeasy vibe mark Bluethroat out as a haven for drinkers, the brothers hope that its food offering will be a welcome surprise for those ordering.

“We change the dishes all the time, but we serve Mediterranean and modern European food,” said Landi.

“There’s always something new, but we love seafood. There are a lot of Italian influences because our chefs are from Italy.”

Ari added: “We serve a lot of fish – black cod, king prawns and salmon – and we do specials every week.

“I think people are a bit shocked that the food is as good as it is because of the way the bar looks.

“We started off serving smaller plates, but we’ve extended the menu because people wanted more food.” 

The primary focus remains the liquid though, and, having worked widely on the city’s bar scene, Ari is keen to build the bar’s reputation in the capital.

He said: “Ultimately we want to be known as one of the best cocktail bars in London. That’s our ambition. 

“We’re taking things slowly and we haven’t really promoted ourselves yet. We wanted to grow organically and for people to find out about us that way.”

Bluethroat is open Weds-Sun. Cocktails typically cost between £10 and £11. Small plates are £6-£11 and bigger dishes around £14. 

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