Carlos Londoño café pacifico

Carlos Londoño: Passion pays off

15 July, 2020

I heard gunshots so I ran downstairs and the security guard at reception told me not to go out. My stepdad was badly wounded, my mum was lucky, but the driver was dead.”

Carlos Londoño had a life-changing year in his Colombian birthplace when he was 14. His father died of a stroke and his family was attacked by gun fire while returning home from holiday. They fled the country that year to escape the ongoing violence and political unrest and headed to London.

“I had a very privileged upbringing in Colombia, it was like a little bubble,” says Londoño. “But the next thing I knew we were on a flight to Europe. I was really excited because I was going to live in the land of The Beatles and Queen, but it was a bit strange going from such a comfortable upbringing to a small bedsit in Brixton with political refugees from all over the world.”

According to Londoño it all came as a result of his late step father’s work as a lawyer protecting the trade unions in Colombia. “I thought I was going to follow my father and become a lawyer, but having my life flipped upside down as a result there was no way. For a while I wanted to be an architect and then a fashion designer, but my first job in the hospitality industry was at a Colombian & Argentinian restaurant in Islington.”

It was next door at Medicine Bar where he gained his passion for making drinks. The young Londoño worked voluntarily to help develop the venue’s cocktail menu and found himself a girlfriend there in the process. “One day she took me to Covent Garden and dumped me, so I wanted to go and get drunk somewhere nice. I eventually found Café Pacifico. I fell in love with the place and I needed a second job for some pot money, so when I was offered a waiting job I took it.”

Londoño moved up the ranks to head waiter and then head bartender and restaurant manager during his long reign at the central London joint.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Cafe Pacifico ⚓️ 🌮 (@officialcafepacifico) on Apr 28, 2018 at 9:13pm PDT

“Pacifico is my institution. It’s a pioneer in so many ways and it’s where I met my wife, so it’s a special place. The three key things I brought to Pacifico were introducing more fresh ingredients to the cocktail menu, improving the customer service and reducing the number of tequilas behind the bar, because it was overwhelming.”

The bar was founded by Tomas Estes in 1982 and when he launched his Tequila Ocho brand in 2008 Londoño naturally took on the role as its first brand ambassador, a post he held for three years. He’s also represented the tequilas under Emporia Brands and was on the judging panel when star bartender Alex Kratena entered his first agave cocktail competition.

About three years ago Estes said he would probably sell if Londoño ever left because he was the spine of the place. Londoño decided he should be the one to buy it. “Together with my cousin we bought the place, even though it was in debt, and managed to turn it around in eight months. It’s rewarding to think we managed to raise the funds without taking outside investments because now we can do things exactly how we want.

“I’d love to write a book on my time at Pacifico because there are many stories to tell.”

While Londoño keeps pushing the Café Pacifico brand around the world and heading up the tequila leg of the International Spirits Challenge, he also has plans to launch a tequila brand and has his eye on another Pacifico venue. There’s no questioning his ambition and drive towards success, but at the forefront of everything is seeing happy guests.

“For me customer service is always number one. If they go away feeling loved then that’s enough for me. My mother always told me ‘do what makes you happy, and I’ll be happy’.”

Digital Edition

Drinks International digital edition is available ahead of the printed magazine. Don’t miss out, make sure you subscribe today to access the digital edition and all archived editions of Drinks International as part of your subscription.


La'Mel Clarke

Service isn’t servitude: the skill of hosting

La’Mel Clarke, front of house at London’s Seed Library, looks at the forgotten art of hosting and why it deserves the same respect as bartending.