Theo Quinn (left) and Tom Godfrey

Theo Quinn and Tom Godfrey: Social barflies

27 April, 2023

­Theo Quinn and Tom Godfrey, alumni of some of the world’s best bars, have ventured out to create their own bar and concept, FOCO in Barcelona, Spain.

The concept takes inspiration from Foreign Correspondents’ Clubs, which were, or are, bars or clubs in prominent cities around the world where foreign journalists would meet and share their stories, hence the name FOCO, an abbreviation of Foreign Correspondents.

“Our concept is really heavily based around our relationship and people coming in and enjoying the space we’ve designed. ­ The whole idea of the bar was based around this idea of being social, getting people to stop looking at their phones, and instead of mixing on Instagram, mixing in real life,” Godfrey says.

Getting there

­The pair started out at bars in Bristol, UK, and Quinn says: “For both of us it kind of overlaps because we launched our careers in the same bar in a way. I was bartending a few years before that, but we developed our love for cocktails in Bristol. We all worked in this bar called Red Light, alongside other bartenders like Chelsie Bailey, and we fell in love with making drinks there. ­ Then I left to manage a similar bar to that in Barcelona.”

Godfrey stayed at Red Light a short while longer then went on to open Filthy XIII with Benjamin Alcock and was there for two years. After the first lockdown finished in Spain, he got the opportunity to move to Barcelona. “­ Theo just happened to post on his Instagram that he had a spare bedroom, so I moved here on a complete whim and came to work with him in a bar in the Gothic Quarter called Carlos & Matilda,” Godfrey adds. Working together at Carlos & Matilda, Godfrey was running the kitchen and Quinn the front of house, when the opportunity arose to open their own spot.

While working on their own concept behind the scenes, Quinn moved to Paradiso, recent winner of ­ The World’s 50 Best Bars, and Godfrey went to Two Schmucks, which placed seventh on the 50 Best list, and as Quinn says, it “kind of refreshed our industry knowledge in terms of where it’s going with drinks, and gave us that little push. We already knew we were going to open a bar, we had the spot, but we wanted to keep it on the hush hush and get that small head start before we threw ourselves in the deep end.”

A new chapter

On choosing to open FOCO in Barcelona, Godfrey says it was “kind of the right place at the right time”. He adds: “We’re living in this city that has these top 10 bars in it and the best thing about Barcelona is that everyone wants to come and visit, regardless of cocktail bars. So we really feel like we struck gold. It was going to be London or here, but we both love the lifestyle here and think our concept works the best where we’ve done it.”

Basing the concept for the bar on the social side of foreign correspondence, Quinn says it is “bringing all of those ideas together in terms of styles of drinks and styles of service, and very much in terms of the design”. With the image of foreign correspondence being a small part of every bar they’ve worked at, Quinn adds that “it’s very influenced by Carlos & Matilda on the social side, and the drinks very much resemble Paradiso and Two Schmucks”

With hopes to move away from bars that take after the speakeasy influence, where customers may be shown to their seat and only spend time with the people they came with, the pair hope to give people the opportunity to connect with other. “Part of what Tom and I say is that we want people to come to the bar and leave having met someone,” Quinn adds.

Being able to balance each other out, Quinn notes it's “one of our strongest points at FOCO at the moment”. He adds: ”We do everything together but we’re still trying to find the perfect balance. We both design drinks, we both control service, but at the moment, the experiences I acquired in these past years is more of a managerial role, taking care of the team and guests. Tom is knuckled down and concentrates on drinks. So that’s the way the public is seeing us. I’m more of the host and Tom is more of the bartender, and that seems to work very smoothly.”

­ The drinks offering at FOCO is focused on classics. “We’ve both grown new techniques, new methods, new ways of manipulating flavour,” says Godfrey. “All drinks on the menu are listed as classic drinks. ­The first is a Clover Club, but it’s not a classic Clover Club, we’ve updated these drinks and bought them into new trends.

“­The things that are most important to us are that we want people to smile when they drink our drinks, we want them to be happy. Every drink is approachable and we want to challenge people to drink something they maybe would read on a menu and be like, ‘I don’t like cognac and rye whisky’, but I could challenge anyone to drink that drink and not like it,” Godfrey adds.

To appeal to more people, Quinn and Godfrey are also mixing spirits in the cocktails they create. “We’re not thinking of them as spirits, we’re thinking of them as the flavour profile. Classically a drink would have one spirit in, like a Daiquiri would have rum, but we play with a number of different alcohols in all our cocktails purely for the flavour profile of each,” says Godfrey.

­The offering also incorporates food, including chef residencies.­ There is a regular food offering with one main dish, a meat and a vegetarian version, that will change every six months or so, designed by Quinn and Godfrey, while the interior includes tiered step seating to encourage socialisation.

Branching out

New to the business in terms of pushing their own concept, Quinn notes: “We’ve worked for other people and held their concept very well, and now is the time where we’re launching ourselves and putting ourselves fully out there.

“I think I would describe Tom as probably one of the best bartenders in the world. He’s a very smart bartender in the way that he builds drinks. I wouldn’t describe him as the most fancy bartender in terms of flipping bottles or anything like that, he’s not a showman. He’s definitely more concentrated on the time it takes for an order to come in and the drink to reach the table. I think that's what I would consider a really good bartender in today’s day and age,” Quinn continues.

On Quinn’s style of hosting and bartending, Godfrey says: “You just know that if you’re sat at the bar in front of Theo you’re going to have a good time. He’s fun to watch, he makes great drinks, you’re just going to be entertained.

“I think that’s what really drew me into working in this industry, being sat at a bar watching a bartender make drinks. When someone’s good at it, it’s really entertaining and I think ­Theo encompasses that.”

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