Bold decisions on Helsinki’s cocktail frontier
Outlook: What’s cooking on the Nordic cocktail scene?
If you go to a fine Italian restaurant, you are not going to be able to order nachos. If you go to a fine French restaurant, you are not going to be able to order pizza. Why should you be able to order a vodka redbull or even a gin and tonic in a fine cocktail bar focusing on spirits from the American continents? Perhaps you shouldn’t and at least at the Helsinki based cocktailbar Chihuahua Julep you can’t. Chihuahua Julep is setting its values and standing behind them.
No crowd pleasers here
By the words of the owner Jami Järvinen “Chihuahua Julep is an agave friendly cocktail bar”. They focus on South and North American spirits and leave everything else out of the shelfs. “There is no gin or vodka, so no crowd pleasers here. Cocktails are high end and built by skilful bartenders. This is not a place to train your skills. We use big flavours with a Finnish twist. By big flavours I mean lots of Tequila, Mezcal, Pisco, Cachaca, Agricole and so on.” Järvinen tells.
Nothing amazing ever came from only doing things half way so with Julep the values define more than just what is on the shelfs and the menu. Chihuahua Julep is not a speakeasy bar, but you do need to ring a doorbell to get in. This is for keeping the atmosphere and to be able to provide proper service from the moment the guests step in.
“Inside you will find another world. You can sense the music, which fits the interior and the mood. The two sides of the bar are separated with decoration: The Mexican living room and the classic 1920s style.” Järvinen explains. The two styles represent the values already shown in the name of the bar. Chihuahua for the Mexican living room and agave, julep for the classic style of their cocktails and bartending.
The cocktail menu changes three times a year following the moods the weather gives you. Autumn mood is dark, cold and wet followed by freezing, cold snow and finally in the spring, comes the sunny feeling when the birds start singing again.
“It takes about two months to design each menu and we do it together. We have no deals and there is no money moving around with suppliers, so we are using only the coolest products.” – Jami Järvinen
Check out for instance “Noche De Rabanos” – one of the nominees for the best signature cocktail in Finland at Bartender’s Choice Awards 2018.
The Mobile phone free area
Guests come to a high-end cocktail bar not only to get a beverage but to get an experience. They want to feel the atmosphere, to relax, to enjoy time with their friends, but they all have their phones to distract them from experiencing it all completely. These days people panic as soon as the little battery shaped picture on the screen turns red.
In Chihuahua Julep the use of smartphones is forbidden. “The problem with smart phones is that everyone is taking photos and playing with their phones even in company. We feel that the evening is more successful when people have time to really be with each other. It is very cool that our guests get to experience Chihuahua Julep with all their senses, but on the other hand we just want to give them an opportunity to relax for a while and be separated from the busy world.
Many of them are stuck with their phones because of a busy work and a busy life.” Järvinen justifies their decision. The bar provides a “cloakroom” for the phones. You get a numbered key for a small locker where you can safely load your phone while you enjoy the cocktails and your company.
Chihuahua Julep is open every day all year around except for July when the staff is on a holiday. They have no private parties in the evenings and they don’t take reservations. “You are always welcome. We want to give people the chance to experience the Helsinki cocktail scene whenever they want.” Järvinen says.
It is very bold decisions that this newcomer in the Helsinki cocktail scene is making and the best thing about it is that they truly honouring those decisions. This means of course that the place is not for everyone, but in a city the size of Helsinki you don’t need to please everyone. In fact, if you try to please everyone you often end up pleasing no-one and the least of all yourself.
Cheers to Chihuahua Julep for standing firm and proud behind their values!
All photos in this article are by Mika Levalampi