Guest post: Lottie Muir describes the Brunel Museum’s Midnight Apothecary pop-up cocktail bar

Our latest guest post comes from Lottie Muir, gardener and mixologist at London’s Brunel Museum, who shares how her team devised and promoted their Museums at Night event involving “the hottest pop up cocktail bar in London”.

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It is amazing to think that this time last year, the garden in which we hold our pop-up rooftop garden cocktail bar Midnight Apothecary had not even been built.  Twelve months on we are the proud hosts of “the hottest pop up cocktail bar in London” (Evening Standard, August 2012) with plans well under way for Midnight Apothecary events throughout the rest of 2013.

Picture of a garden with plants and deck chairs

Deckchairs set up in preparation for a night-time event (c) Marianne Majerus

 Our enchanted secret rooftop garden sits above Brunel’s Thames Tunnel, part of the Brunel Museum, in Rotherhithe, south east London. 

It had previously been a rather neglected fifty foot diameter circular roof space planted with low maintenance “park plants”.  We transformed it last April with the help of local volunteers into a community potager teeming with vegetables, herbs and flowers.  While it was designed for the enjoyment of museum visitors and local volunteers, including school groups, who share the harvest, the concept of a cocktail bar had never entered our minds.

Last May, the museum director, Robert Hulse, asked me to come up with an activity to bring in a new audience on the Saturday evening of Museums at Night.  With less than a month to plan I thought, flowers and alcohol: you can’t go wrong!  Luckily the museum and gardens are licensed premises where we can serve alcohol.

Two cocktails in a garden, one with a sprig of lavender

Floral cocktails (c) Marianne Majerus

The Midnight Apothecary was born, initially as a one-off casual garden cocktail bar, using herbs and flowers to infuse and garnish the cocktails.  The name ‘Midnight Apothecary’ had a night time gardening feel to it which seemed appropriate for the occasion.  We tucked brightly coloured fake birds and flares in amongst the flowers, stoked up a firepit, put out some deckchairs on the “beach” and with less than 24 hours to go, built a cocktail bar that resembles a potting bench.  A couple of local musicians completed the picture.

A couple drinking cocktails at dusk

Visitors enjoying drinks as night falls at the Midnight Apothecary event (c) Eleanor Salter Thorn

Initially we posted some information to Time Out, the Evening Standard and Metro.  Our Events Manager is a fantastic Twitter user and we also handed out fliers at the local tube stations and put posters up in local shops, pubs and libraries.

We knew we might be on to a winner when Time Out made it their “Pick of the Night”.   Over 120 people came to our first event and imbibed honey and basil dacquiris, whisky with chocolate mint and gin and lavender fizz.  These were washed down with soup, sausages, elderflower fritters and toasted marshmallows.

Midnight Apothecary has grown, as has the garden.  Following our hugely successful first night we decided to run it as a weekly event throughout the summer and autumn of last year. We have held monthly special events throughout the winter.  Our guests are mixed but predominantly young (21-45), style conscious lovers of pop-up events, cocktails and gardens.  This is a new audience for the museum and they are becoming repeat visitors – not just for Midnight Apothecary, but for our concerts and other events.  We regularly get 250 guests on a Saturday night and 400 guests at special events such as Bonfire Night or Halloween.

Women with drinks smiling

The Midnight Apothecary bar up and running (c) Eleanor Salter Thorn

A major factor in our success was a number of favourable online reviews at the start.  These soon seem to snowball once an event sounds ‘hot’.  It required concerted effort at first by approaching event reviewers with enticing copy and images.  But it paid off with great articles in the Evening Standard, the Independent on Sunday and The Telegraph.  A lot of our guests are avid users of social media and thereby do a lot of PR for us with their own reviews and photos from the night.

four smiling women in a garden at night

A happy group of visitors in the Brunel Museum garden at night (c) Eleanor Salter Thorn

We are hard at work preparing for our 2013 season which starts weekly on Saturdays from Easter.  And we’re going to be heavily involved in the Chelsea Fringe Show this year, designing the Chelsea Fringe Cocktail!

Our major lesson from last year is to ticket events – not only can you be sure that you know exactly how many guests are coming but you can maintain a relaxed and well managed operation as opposed to managing a scrum when it gets too popular.  Quite a nice problem to have!

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Picture of a woman smiling

Lottie Muir is the gardener at the Brunel Museum and creator of Midnight Apothecary. Details of this project and other events can be found at her website www.thecocktailgardener.co.uk.  For details of other events at the Brunel Museum visit http://www.brunel-museum.org.uk

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Thanks Lottie!

If you’re reading this and you have an interesting story to tell or case study to share about planning or marketing after-hours events at your arts or heritage venue, I’d love to publish your guest posts as well. Please get in touch at rosie@culture24.org.uk.

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