a bar with shapes for a name 🔶🟥🔵 is the new cocktail bar from Remy Savage and Paul Lougrat. Based in Haggerston and with a Bauhaus-inspired ethos, this late-license hotspot is fast becoming a hospo trade and neighbourhood favourite. We chat with Remy to learn a bit more about the concept and offering.
Frickin’ hell it’s been a while since we wrote about visiting a bar!
A real life bar out there in the world. Not one we can only wistfully glimpse through the confines of our Instagram feed; that we make fervent plans to go to with friends “once this is all over”; or that we’ve added as a Zoom background to our virtual spirits tastings to try and get us in the mood (just us?). This is an actual bar that we actually visited in the proverbial flesh – a long-awaited, brick n’ mortars drinking den from the world-renowned Remy Savage (ex-Artesian, ex-Little Red Door), co-founder Paul Lougrat (also ex-Artesian, and ex-Highwater), and collaborator Maria Kontorravdis (ex-Sexy Fish).
Tucked away on the Haggerston stretch of Kingsland Road (equidistance between fellow cocktail havens Callooh Callay and Three Sheets) sits a bar with shapes for a name🔶🟥🔵. This less than conventionally titled establishment is influenced by the Bauhaus school of art that focused on functionalism in design – a principle that carries throughout the venue, from its name and decor to its minimal back-bar, quick-serve menu, and use as a place to listen, learn, and question.
“We decided to open a bar two, or maybe two-and-a-half years ago”, says Remy.
“Paul and I worked together at Artesian and decided to do a bar together. I’ve been doing cocktails for 10 years – and worked 15 years in the bar. I alway thought that it would be fun to create a space that could start a conversation and has to do with art, vision, and that kind of thing, instead of just focusing on the drinks again and again […] I thought it would be really fun for someone who knows nothing about art or cocktails to come in and to get a bit of a sense of the intention.”
The space itself is beautiful. An unassuming, slim frontage of full-length, concertina glass doors opens up to a lengthy bar space, with dynamic furnishings that are both handsome and exhilaratingly functional. Reddish-brown mahogany covers the surfaces and floor, with lighting inspired by the one Walter Gropius (Director of Bauhaus) had in his office, and high-tables with practical coat hooks that fold in upon themselves when needed, fastening to the walls of the venue to accommodate dancing during the bar’s 3am license.
“We didn’t set out to do a Bauhaus bar.” Remy tells us. However, “upon visiting this particular venue […] we fell in love with the space and thought, ‘let’s create a space that can operate like an assertive art movement; a place where ideas can be exchanged’ and, with the Bauhaus being a school, it was like, hold on, that’s it. That’s brilliant. Bauhaus also has historical connections to London […] as the main guys behind it moved to East London.
“It was actually an art movement that we knew very little about. If we talk about Art Deco, Baroque, Renaissance, we can see the visual, but the Bauhaus is so complex because it’s made of a lot of people and their influence has been sort of endless. What we call today ‘design’ is a product of the Bauhaus, and a lot of people don’t know that as such or identify that, so we thought it would be interesting to explore.”
Taking Bauhaus as their inspiration, not as a 2D aesthetic but as a whole school of thought, opened the team’s eyes to the scope of what could be achieved under the venue’s roof.
“We designed this space to have a school in the back, then you have the manufacturing station where we do all the processing with all the machines we use, then we have the bar part, which is the showroom or house part. What we wanted to do was not a museum of the Bauhaus but something that was Bauhaus the way it was 101 years ago. The idea was to take the mindset and see how it was applicable today. There are a lot of things that are not Bauhaus at all here but the mindset is being followed; we don’t want to produce something that has already been produced, we want to educate ourselves on something and have that mindset and try and see what we come up with. A bit of an experiment in a sense.”
What’s in a name?
The name of the bar is three shapes – a yellow triangle, a red square, a blue circle. These primary colour and shape combinations were devised by Bauhaus teacher Wassily Kandinsky and are now inseparable from Bauhaus as an art movement and principal. Remy ropes in his newest bartenders, Jack Coppack and Elena Urbani to explain the reasoning behind the name:
“The name of the bar represents a universal design language that anyone can understand no matter where you are in the world. So, not everyone understands the English alphabet as we see it – there are other alphabets out there. However, everyone has an understanding of the shapes and the colours designed here.”
Whilst this idea is a noble one and in some lights practical, it does come with a certain number of impractical issues, such as the fact that the red square symbol is not currently available on Facebook, Instagram, or Apple products. This, along with the nature of the bar industry, has led to the new hotspot being affectionately referred to as Shapes.
Flavour – Translating the “Bauhaus Mindset” into the bar
Bauhaus was a school with a curriculum – a five and a half year course with a six month intro into what is beautiful in general, product theory, nature, space… Then students moved onto using all types of materials (stone, wood, metal, textile, clay, glass, colour) and the next stage was to build a city.
“What was interesting for us is that they had six domains and expertise that they could use. We thought, ‘how about we pretend there is a seventh and that it is flavour.’ The same way that a piece of wood is just a piece of wood and then through the use of tools you can shape it to be a piece of art. In the same way, a lemon is just a lemon until you direct the aroma in the way you want it to express itself, and therefore as an intention there is art of at least artistic ambition. We familiarised ourselves with the six domains and tried to figure out what the space of flavour was in this mindset.”
What’s on the menu?
About an hour into chatting with Remy, we realise we haven’t yet gotten on to the drinks – definitely a first in a bar interview! Remy consoles us, “The reason why it’s super easy to forget about the drinks is because they’re going to be exactly like everything else.”
“In our careers, I worked in a few bars where menus were very central to the experience and every year you tried to reinvent something. For the first time, Paul and I have the freedom to be able to express something through the walls, through the smell. The drinks are going to be exactly like the chairs, the sliding bar, the uniforms [inspired by Bauhaus’ Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s own]. The drinks will be at the service of what we are trying to understand is the Bauhaus vision. Functionality and flavours at the centre. No fire. Just to the point and effective with flavours, making drinks people will enjoy.”
They do this by creating and adding to their “flavour organ” in the classroom at the back – a library of monochrome distillates that they use to blend different flavours to produce the drinks they want. As per the Bauhaus mindset, what is on offer in terms of drinks is minimal and functional, with only 20 bottles in the back-bar – all chosen by blind tasting – and only nine house “drinks, creations, pieces, and six classics; as well as one red wine, one white, one saké, one functional beer, one mad beer.” So, if they want to produce something akin to an Oban whisky but they only have an Islay in the back-bar, they breakdown what they want from an Oban (e.g. an apricot note) and distil apricot to create a drink with a sense of Oban.
It makes sense once explained and adds an extra layer of engagement and questioning that the bartenders must do in order to work with their limited back-bar, whilst also opening up the opportunity to create endless iterations with their mono-distillates. A few notable examples:
- Pastel (Haku vodka, rhubarb, recomposed lime, and Capreolus Raspberry Eau de Vie) – a moreish and vibrant highball with a delightful balance of tartness and sweetness from the rhubarb and astonishing Capreolus Raspberry Eau de Vie. A light carbonation tickles the palate and heightens the brightness of the recomposed lime
- Odessa (Remy Martin 1738, pineapple, liquorice, Ribiero coffee) – an astoundingly heady combo of cognac and coffee, with powerful, earthy notes swept up by cheeky pineapple. A mountain of shaved ice sitting atop the colourful Mexican-style glassware, adding just enough dilution whilst teasing you to find the last sips of this (possibly our new favourite) cocktail
Shapes is an exciting and unusual new bar from a fantastic team, with an intriguing concept that is fun to engage with but is not rammed down punters’ throats. A design nerd will have as much fun in this dynamic space as would someone who’s never heard of Bauhaus. The cocktails are not only divine but incredibly affordable, priced at £9.50 (with Paul mentioning drinks will range from £8-12).
Both a great afternoon hang-spot, and a late-licensed party venue – we have no doubt we will be returning to a bar with shapes for a name 🔶🟥🔵 a lot, and urge you to check it out too.
a bar with shapes for a name 🔶🟥🔵, 232 Kingsland Road, E2 8AX
Opening hours: 6pm – 3am, Wednesday – Monday; Closed, Tuesday