Usually, if one of the leading figures in the Twin Cities cocktail scene told us they were leaving for a larger market, we'd be bummed out. But the announcement that Marvel Bar drink-maker in chief Pip Hanson is taking a yearlong London sabbatical could actually be a good thing for local imbibers.
After one year, Hanson -- who prior to opening Marvel honed his craft in Tokyo under Kazuo Ueda -- will return to the North Loop bar beneath the Bachelor Farmer he helped build with a new bag of tricks. Meanwhile, Marvel's deep roster of talent will hold down his hyperdiluting fort and play a larger role in drink development. Frankly, if there was any critique of the two-time James Beard semifinalist it's that some of the bright bartenders under Hanson haven't had as much of an opportunity to shine in his shadow.
We caught up with the guy who gave us the Gatsby and the Oliveto to discuss his pond-hopping plans.
Q: Did you have to make a hard sell to the bosses?
A: It was really on ongoing discussion. Marvel Bar is at such a good point, really. It's not that I was running out of ideas, but we've got so many people who have so many ideas. I just thought it would be good to remove myself for a year and see how those other ideas played out without me getting in the way, so to speak. Maybe a year ago or earlier in my time with Marvel it might have been a hard thing. But these days the bar is so strong -- the whole team. We've got crazy talent there. So it was, at this point, no question that the bar would be fine. I really think it's going to be a cool era of collaboration, which will hopefully free me up from some of my perfectionist habits, because I won't be there to micromanage every little detail. I think it's going to be really good for Marvel Bar. That was the part of the conversation that made [co-owner] Eric [Dayton] and [managing director] Nathan [Rostance] most comfortable. I think it's really win win at the end of the day.
Q: When are you officially leaving?
A: My target's June 1.
Q: How long is this something you've been thinking about?
A: It's a hard thing to describe. There's a certain degree to which, being the boss, it can be hard to learn more. If you're not the boss, presumably there's somebody you're learning from above you. I really enjoy learning from people. Whether it's Johnny Michaels or Kazuo Ueda from the cocktail sphere, or my old drum teacher, I've always had people who have shown me how I could improve on what I was doing. In Marvel, there was certainly a long process of getting better, learning. But there wasn't necessarily someone to smack me on the wrist and say, "You're doing it wrong." I kind of miss that, to be honest. I'm far from set in my ways. I've always been very happy at work, but I've also wondered aloud sometimes what my options were for really learning something difficult and new if I ever wanted to do that. This came up at a time when, personally, it's a very good time. I'm ready for this now and the bar is fully mature, and not just able to withstand it, but probably able to thrive.
Q: What is it about London in particular?
A: My mother's from England and I have dual citizenship. I love London. It's one of the most international cities in the world. It's New York, Paris, Tokyo's equal. There's something about enormous urban hives that really attract me, not to mention the amount of talented people that are there. I've always wanted to reconnect with that side of my heritage. I always wanted to go back and make the most of my dual citizenship, which my mother had to jump through an awful lot of hoops to get me. I just turned 34, so I'm not getting any younger. It's on the bucket list and now's the time.
Q: Are there bars you know you'll be working at?
A: I have nothing lined up in the way of jobs. Now that the announcement's out, I can start to network more and talk about it. I know where I'll be living for the first month -- my uncle's house in Harrow, which is a northern London borough. Other than that I don't have too many certainties right now.
Q: Is it 69 Colbrooke Row or [affiliated cocktail collective/laboratory] the Drink Factory that has a program where they…
A: Yeah, [renowned bartender] Tony Conigliaro. Honestly, if I were to work for anybody I'd love to work for him. I'd love to talk to him, work with him and learn from him. That's sort of exactly the opportunity I'm hoping to look into when I get over there. But there's a ton of brilliant people out there and I'll be happy to see, experience and learn however I can.
Q: Is there anything London's cocktail scene is doing, which we aren't doing in the U.S. that you want to pick up?
A: For sure. But I'm not entirely sure what it is yet. When I moved to Tokyo it was always a 50/50 question, am I going to go to Tokyo or should I go to London instead? Right as I got to Japan, I saw an article in the New York Times basically saying London was the cocktail capital of the world. This was like eight years ago. So, basically for a decade, London's cocktail scene has been, for a lot of people, the best in the world. It's creative and fearless, or maybe doesn't take itself too seriously in a way some American bars do. But at the same time, they have the ability to distill right onsite, which changes everything. America's liquor laws are nowhere near that. So, the stuff you can do in a London bar is really next-level stuff.
Q: In your absence is head bartender Peder [Schweigert] stepping up and taking the reins?
A: Yup. Peder is going to become the general manager of Marvel Bar. Jon Palmer who has been [Bachelor Farmer's] Norsten Bar sort of bar manager is overseeing the bar up there. Matthew Voss, who is currently a supervisor, has been promoted to Peder's position of head bartender. We're going to be able to move people into positions where they have enhanced responsibilities, a larger voice in the process. I think it's going to lead to a really fascinating period of creativity.
Q: For you personally, how important is continued education in your career?
A: I've got to keep swimming forward or I'll die, like a shark. I don't think there's any alternative. Japan was a really challenging experience for me and it changed my life in all these different ways. Continued eduction is important as hell. It's got to be, otherwise you get stagnant.