In collaboration with

As part of a four-part series amplifying Black talent in the hospitality industry, Havana Club and Black Eats LDN spotlight bartender La'Mel Clarke.

With 300+ vendors today, and regular events including a monthly market at Bohemia place in Hackney (averaging 5k attendees per event), Black Eats LDN — the UK’s first and only Black-owned restaurant directory — supports and celebrates both individuals and Black-owned businesses in the hospitality industry.


Partnering with Havana Club and Notion, their latest venture has spotlighted four innovative mixologists leading the scene. Concluding the series with their fourth event at The Hackney Social, we meet bartender La’Mel Clarke.


After getting into hospitality after finishing uni, La’Mel — who is also a dancer, choreographer and writer — approaches hospitality with a focus on the customer experience. Reflecting on his career so far, he breaks down his process for crafting a menu, his advice for new bartenders coming up on the scene, and the importance of taking up space.

Hi La’Mel! Can you introduce yourself for us?

Hello, my name is La’Mel. I’m 29, I’m from north west London. I got into hospitality straight out of uni — because I needed a job after I got fired from being a street charity fundraiser.

What does the word, or the concept, of hospitality mean to you?
For me, hospitality is how you make people feel when they come into a venue that you’re occupying. It’s not about the food or the drinks, it’s how people feel when they are leaving. It’s what they tell their friends about the experience.
As a Black bartender, what challenges have you faced throughout your career? Have you faced any challenges or hurdles along the way?
I think I’ve been quite lucky that, even though I’m generally one of only one Black person in a space at any one time, I am unafraid to take up space and make that space my own. I think one of the biggest challenges is the fact that there hasn’t been many people before me doing what I’m doing. The idea of branching out outside of simply making drinks, and looking at the whole hosting experience, there hasn’t really been anyone that’s done that. There hasn’t been a blueprint for me. So that’s been the main challenge.
Would you say there is anyone in the scene that you identify with? Or see as a role model?
I think there’s a lot of people that have been doing some really cool things that I really like. Sandrae Lawrence — she’s part of The Cocktail Lovers. I love what she’s doing in terms of looking at the entire breadth of the industry.
What would your advice be to up-and-coming bartenders, or someone who’s just coming into the scene? 
Go out and drink in different bars, see what different bars are doing. See what makes sense to you. Go The Savoy, go to those 5* hotels, go to your dive bars, go to your pubs. Learn about what the different products are. Also think about what hospitality means to you personally. Is it purely making drinks, or is it about the whole experience? And don’t make drinks that you think are cool, make drinks that you would drink yourself.
What is your process when making a menu? Is there a specific process that you go through, or is it literally throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks? 
My process when creating drinks for menus varies. The process that I did for today was looking at who would be drinking these drinks — not necessarily looking at how I was going to involve the industry. I’m thinking about how I can push simple ingredients in a really transformative way. Today I was thinking ‘What are people going to want to drink? If I was out today, what would I want to drink?’ A lot of it was brainstorming and pulling ideas from different places. Feeling like it might work, but also taking a risk just in case it didn’t.
This whole initiative is about pushing Black and brown talent, and delivering equity within the scene. For a young Black or brown bartender coming into the scene right now, in one sentence what’s your top tip that you would have loved to hear?
My advice, in the most succinct way, is take space. Own that space. No one is going to tell you that you cannot be in a certain environment or do something. And if they do, you just ignore them and be like ‘Cool, I’m going to do it anyway’, and see what happens.

Watch the interview with La’Mel below:

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