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Bartender's Choice Claudio 'Nino' Antonino, The Maven

Where the stars behind the bars reveal their favourite drinks

Bartender's Choice: Claudio 'Nino' Antonino, The Maven

Sometimes you have to work a little bit harder to get the finer things in life. And unless you know exactly where you’re going, you might find yourself walking up and down Call Lane for some time before you manage to find The Maven. For starters there isn’t even a sign outside, in true Prohibition speakeasy style. But if you’re a cocktail lover, you’ll be pleased you got here in the end. After making your way in through the inconspicuous exterior, you head up an old staircase and into this unexpected, classy little hideaway.

The man behind The Maven is Nino, a veteran of several Leeds bars and with a succession of cocktail competition wins under his belt – not to mention stints working in Paris and New   York – so this is a man who knows his stuff. Nino believes Leeds was pretty much neck and neck with London in terms of its cocktail scene when he first came here, but it’s now overdue some fresh inspiration to get it back up where it belongs – and The Maven is his chance to do just that.

"Making cocktails these days is a bit like being in the kitchen," he says, "using a lot of culinary styles. And it’s a lot to do with an attitude behind the bar – the bar is your stage, so you just go for it. It’s not about being snobby or anything like that, just doing your job and trying to please someone and trying to make sure they come back. And so far we’ve been very successful in that – we’re on the shortlist to become the UK’s best new bar and that’s not happened in Leeds before, so that’s really good after just three months."

Nino makes us a drink based on a cocktail known as the Clover Club, which legend has it was created by a bartender working in a club of the same name inside the Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, which was frequented by the high-fliers of the day. "I’m using one and a half shots of All Tom gin, which is one of the first gins made; quite sweet, different from the gins we’ve got now, because back in the day gins were much sweeter. Everything was sweeter because of the palate they had, they had lots of sweet things – it was a bit like you were rich in a way." Nino tops it off with a garnish of fresh mint – hence the name the Clover Leaf – and advises us it’s best to drink this one from the glass rather than through a straw in order to enjoy its full flavour. It is a fairly sweet and supremely drinkable cocktail, and you’ll find the bartenders here are happy to tailor everything to your palate, depending on your preference for sweet or sour.

What’s the secret to serving classics with a twist? "I think the thing is research – get to know the products you’re using, make sure they combine," Nino says. "Try and find out the history of the product. If you’re taking a classic like this one and you like to do twists like we do here, you should respect the originals."

As we sip we notice what a well-stocked back bar it is, including an incredibly rare Cuban rum that’s sold by only a few bars in the UK and with a price to match ("I’ve done mojitos and daiquiris with it, and I have drunk it by itself. It is very good. It is very, very good," Nino assures us).

As well as an ever-changing cocktail menu, The Maven is hosting lots of one-off tasting events to keep drinkers on their toes – an interesting one to look out for will be on 29th February to tie in with the date on which it’s said women can propose to their partners – so the gentlemen of Leeds may or may not want to be there for that one!

Finally, you might find as you gaze at the view of Leeds out of the window at The Maven that a certain other unexpected attraction appears from time to time. We won’t give too much away, but let’s just say that a cocktail known as The Naked Lady might well be making its way on to the list in the near future.

A bar to watch, in more ways than one.



Drink: The Clover Leaf

Price: £7

Ingredients: 1½ shots Old Tom gin; 1 shot lemon juice; 6 fresh raspberries; dash of raspberry syrup or sugar (optional); 1 egg white.

Posted on Wednesday 8th February 2012

The Maven

1st Floor, 1 Call Lane, Leeds, LS1 7DH

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Comments on Bartender's Choice: Claudio 'Nino' Antonino, The Maven

Comment by Richard Lawson

Posted on Wed 25th Apr 12 8:29 am

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