OPPORTUNITY DOESN’T ALWAYS KNOCK ON YOUR DOOR. Sometimes you have to go to Azerbaijan. Or at least that’s what Thomas Aske found. His lucrative consultancy work in his mid twenties took him to the Eurasian country and its oily capital that juts out into the Caspian Sea.
“It was shit or bust,” says Aske, who along with Tristan Stephenson, Matt Whiley and Bryan Pietersen were working their first proper shift in their barely formed Fluid Movement consultancy company. Their oil tycoon employer, for whom “money was no object”, wanted imported talent to create his “vanity project” bar with a cocktail menu that was probably a little ahead of Azerbaijan’s time, possibly even now. The quartet worked like oil workers – long hours with no days off – until the job was done and a wedge earned.
“It was a turning point. Without the Baku job things would not have happened so quickly. We could have split the money but together we had enough to open a bar. From the age of 16 in Nottingham all I had wanted to do was open a bar. “At 26 I was on the verge of achieving a lifetime goal – and it was a bar in central London.”
Purl in Marylebone, London, opened in 2010 and put Fluid Movement on the map. “There was no guarantee Purl would work – we just threw drinks together we thought were cool.” The result was some of the most visually impactful drinks in London and what Aske calls “an explosive start” to their careers. “Overly theatrical drinks have now been overplayed but back then the bar was ahead of the time.”
From Purl the team opened Worship Street Whistling Shop the following year, a gin palace that went one better by listing in the World’s 50 Best Bars in 2011 and 2012. Around this time Fluid Movement’s operators were some of the most dynamic bar entrepreneurs in London. What followed was Dach & Sons in Hampstead – great bar, not a great location – which closed within a year and the split of Fluid Movement, Whiley and Pietersen taking Purl, Aske and Stephenson Whistling Shop.
Consultancy, in particular liquid development, has continued to be a theme for Aske – not least the Aske Stephenson bottled cocktail range – and the pair now own a surf shack in Cornwall. But five years into their journey with Whistling Shop, Aske is looking to “reinvigorate the bar”. Last month the duo invested in refitting the venue and the menu feels more mature, less theatrical, offering “simple drinks with complex flavours” aimed at the now-developed London cocktail market.
A new target has been set to engage with the trade and ultimately reclaim their place among The World’s 50 Best Bars. “I don’t think we were getting the pull through from the trade,” says Aske. His career may have had an explosive, eventful start, but with a 20-year lease signed at Whistling Shop, Aske is in London for the long haul.