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Brass Monkey Turns 20: Manager John McDermott Shares How…

13 March 20 words: Eileen Pegg

We track down the general manager of the bar that’s open ‘till the early hours seven days a week, to learn why it hasn’t run out of steam, or rum, just yet…

Beyond the obvious based on Brewhouse Yard, there aren’t many boozers in Notts that can say they’ve had the pleasure of serving up pints (and cocktails, rum and other hard liquor) for two decades. Breaking this trend is Brass Monkey, the ‘barstaff’s favourite’ lace-market institution that’s just celebrated its 20th birthday and is fast approaching its 21st, and we’re just as surprised as they are. 

So what’s the secret to this success? Some might say that indulging in customers’ every need, offering a relaxing haven from a heavy week and offering a selection of addictive bar snacks could hold the key to maintaining repeat service. But since opening in 1999 Brass Monkey hasn’t really done any of this and, after a chat with current manager John McDermott revealed, it seems they’ll carry on doing whatever the chuff they want for another 20 years too...but everyone is invited to join them.

What was Brass Monkey before it turned into the bar it is now?
It used to be someone’s house I believe. Slowly the bar below was built and it’s now where we are today! Himesh, the business owner, used to live upstairs and run the bar from there. Obviously he’s since found a quieter home in Mansfield, we hope...

You have a reputation as a place for ‘industry’ to go, but others might know you for your range of cocktails or rum - why do you think people go to Brass Monkey?
Honestly, we think it’s the toilets. They got refurbed last year and are easily 10/10. But in truth it’s humbling to think of Brass as the ‘industry’ bar. Being here for two decades probably has something to do with it. 

Every manager has his twist on the adventure and mine was the current rum collection, which in fairness was purely for my own sick fantasy of lying in a bed of rum.

Why do you think it’s remained popular for so long?
Customers have had some fantastic memories in the building and that seems to be the recurring feature. It has to be said that Brass is like no other - you could be stood next to a builder, ice hockey player or a secret agent. It’s simply the nature of Brass to be inclusive, inviting and most of all, exciting.

Why do you think it’s the ‘barstaff’s bar’? Did it always set out to be this way?
Brass has a long history of amazing bartenders that have come through our doors, whether it’s behind the bar or as patrons and that’s been reflected in our reputation. It’s often that most bartenders use us as a meeting point, but then we make it really hard for them to leave.

Where do your bar staff drink, if they’re too busy serving all of their pals?
Weirdly enough we tend to drink most places! Nottingham has an amazingly vibrant stretch of independent venues. Thurland Hall first… seriously though, you have Four Hundred Rabbits, Cottonmouth, Coco Tang, Six Barrels, Das Kino, Boilermaker, Whiskey Affair, Mojo, Roxy’s, Tier, Tilt. The list can go on easily!

Is there a particularly big industry community in Nottingham?
Completely! The city is so well connected nowadays through social media that no event is ever missed. Most of us have had the pleasure of working with each other through the years in different venues and those friendships last decades. 

I’ve found that now I can’t afford to keep meeting up with them all, so I’ve hired an impersonator called Ezra who works at Six Barrels...

On your street and throughout Notts there have always been lots of new bars coming and going. What are your thoughts on the ever-evolving Notts’ bar industry and where does Brass Monkey sit within it all?
You have to recognise that Nottingham is pretty small compared to other cities. We have one of the densest ratios of venues to guests in the country! It brings healthy competition, but that can also be a downside. 

Hockley and Sneinton are slowly becoming gentrified and that means that the city centre has moved. Brass is now on the edge and it’s tough - we’ve had to constantly adapt to the cultures and trends every year.

Let’s talk about your Tripadvisor reviews and the responses!. Can you describe your ‘sassy’ approach to bartending? Do most people like it? (even if Ollie didn’t?)

I remember writing this, and the guest! He just didn’t enjoy our techniques of customer interaction. Luckily we had the situation in hand and had the opportunity to remind him that manners maketh a man. His TripAdvisor picture was a dog… hope that gives perspective. Also he was an ass.

Honestly we treat all guests the same (badly)...

From time to time we are known to have had famous customers. Dara O’Brien doesn't hide well in crowds for one. We had a staff moment trying to remember any others, but we don’t tend to remember weekends.

Secret roof terrace - does that actually exist?
Absolutely! Until 11pm…. which is why it’s secret. People should try coming in earlier.

If you’re a late night bar, does the terrace open all night too?
Sadly no, we only use it to store our feelings. It closes at 11pm nightly.

What can we expect when spending a night there?
Depends on how you mean from spending a night? This counts as flirting. We do like guests to be polite, educated in language (audible), able to drink well and tip the bartender. Aside from that, just wear clothes….and be nice to Trev on the door for your sake.

No tracksuits.

You’re open late, so do you ever host gigs or events, or just have in-house DJs? 
We have some fantastic DJs, Stuart Pearson on Sunday, Thursday is Mr Pete Bradley and Friday is Mr Adam Pickering.

Our music selection tends to vary on the bar’s vibe. You’ll be sure to know when the party is on as there will be dancing, glow sticks and blow torches going off.

Any notes on what’s next for Brass Monkey, or more of the same?
We’re in the process of creating merch for all you lovely humans! Aside from that, we are looking into a new menu, but you still have eight months left on our Zombie menu. Brass works on a day to day basis, we just want to go with the tide and see when the place will burn down.

Brass Monkey is hosting a ‘bar olympics and takeover’ with Jamesons this Friday 13 March

Brass Monkey website
Jamesons event

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