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It’s midday and I’m sipping on my first G&T of the day in the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, in Heathrow T3, writes Helen Pawson. “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere in the world”, I say to the fabulously attentive Clubhouse waiting staff. Anyway, a little tipple is surely justified as today (19 October) is International Gin & Tonic Day and I’m about to be flown First Class to New York to celebrate!
My VIP experience has actually kicked off an hour before, when I am driven – by the lovely Remi of Tristar – to the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class check-in. After being whizzed through the private security channel, I take my seat at the 14-metre-long bar at the heart of the Clubhouse. Now the real fun begins.
While my G&T (not just any G&T but an Earl Grey Gin & Tonic) is being curated, I take a virtual visit to the White Lyan bar in London – where my cocktail originates from. [The VR experience was introduced last month and invites Clubhouse customers to take a virtual visit to some of the best bars in the world to experience the signature drinks on the menu.]
I take my headset off and just like magic my cocktail has appeared in front of me.
This Immersive Digital 360 Drinks Experience by Virgin Atlantic and Bacardi Global Travel Retail is now being complemented by the Flying Bartender programme – an inflight service (launched on International G&T Day) which offers expertly crafted cocktails at 35,000 feet. Selected flights each month will focus on one of Bacardi’s brands as the feature spirit in a travel-inspired cocktail. Each will feature as part of an inflight experience with a world-renowned bartender.
This month’s tipple of choice, naturally, is Bacardi-owned Bombay Sapphire gin. Just in case passengers are unaware of the significance of 19 October, all those on my flight, VS045 from London to New York, receive a Bombay Sapphire and Fever-Tree gin & tonic kit to mix their own combination inflight. [Pictured below].
Once onboard and settled in my Upper Class snug, the quality service, food and (just a hint of) beverages begin flowing. My soup starter (washed down with a glass of 2016 ‘Raphael Midoir’ Sauvignon de Touraine) is followed by a succulent ribeye steak followed by warm chocolate salted caramel pudding – divine. Then somewhere 35,000 feet over the Atlantic, below the tip of Greenland, comes the announcement that Max Venning is onboard to personally serve his Bombay Sapphire Gin + Damson concoction to First Class passengers. Venning is the first ‘Flying Bartender’ to participate in the initiative which runs until spring.
The unflappable bartender from Manchester, who co-owns the Three Sheets bar in Dalston, London with his brother Noel, serves up his cocktails featuring his signature plum cordial and before we know it, we’re touching down in the Big Apple, stirred (rather than shaken) by a superb inflight experience. After one of the smoothest and quickest immigration queues I have experienced at a US airport, we head for our next stop: The Nomad Hotel on Broadway. But not before catching a glimpse of one of the most dramatic skylines and sunsets our world has to offer, over Brooklyn Bridge.
After a quick change we meet for a Martini, at the fabulous Nomad Bar, which radiates the conviviality and warmth of a classic New York City tavern. We jump in an Uber and make our way to Saxon & Parole – its description of a ‘meat-centric’ eatery an understatement – and feast on the ‘Holy Cow’ (well named given there appears to be a whole bovine beast on a sharing platter of every cut of steak possible). Vegans out of here.
The carnivore’s meat feast done with, it’s time to hit retro Cuban-themed bar Blacktail. Six years ago Northern Irishmen Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry left Belfast for New York with a mission: to create the world’s best cocktail bar. Fast forward to 2017 and Blacktail has already been voted Best New American Cocktail Bar at the 11th annual Spirited Awards.
12:30am (we are in the city that never sleeps after all) and our final stop is yet another award-winning bar, Dead Rabbit – also owned by Muldoon and McGarry. Voted number one by the World’s 50 Best Bars in both 2015 and 2016 (these Irishmen must know what they’re doing), Dead Rabbit is described as bringing the Irish Pub into the 21st century.
After a hectic week at TFWA World Exhibition in early October and relentless deadlines since, this trip, First Class in every sense was the perfect tonic. With gin, of course.
[Click to watch Max Venning in action at 35,000 feet]