We’re dedicating this post to the Gin Box, the cosiest cocktail bar in Tunbridge Wells! Based in the stables just next door to the George, our resident alchemists mix up a storm of tasty cocktails every Friday (5–11 pm) and Saturday (12–11 pm) under the glow of ambient lighting in a cosy setting that oozes charm.
Meet Tunbridge Wells’ Cocktail Connoisseurs – Bob & Alastair
Business partners Alastair and Bob operated the Gin Box (online gin store) for several years before partnering with Fonthill Brewing Co. to open and host the Fonthill Taproom and Cocktail Bar in the George Stables.
“We felt progressively squeezed,” Bob and Ali explain, “and as a small middleman distributor, concluded that it was time for the business model to change. When Fonthill announced they were upgrading their brewing space and were considering the value of a tap room, we all knew it was time to join forces and provide something special.”
In fact, “something special” perfectly describes the energy and passion that imbues the atmosphere in the Fonthill Taproom and Cocktail bar. We caught up with Bob and Ali to learn more.
Tell us more about your passion for mixology.
Bob & Ali: Mixology appeals to us much like cooking, making music, and solving a problem with design because it is all about how the different vibrations of colour and sensory experience contribute to the final composition, which, more often than not, needs to be accessible whilst maintaining depth and interesting characteristics. Creating a cocktail gives us the vessel of opportunity to connect with others, and its identity might give someone pleasure, spark a memory, or instil a feeling. The experience is yours; the pleasure of the serve is ours.
Otherwise, it’s just great fun and a real privilege to work with the plethora of good quality spirits, liqueurs, and cocktail-making ingredients available to us from our own country and abroad. We live in a time of connectivity and indulgence, and being able to explore what other countries have to offer is a luxury that we feel lucky to experience.
How did you get into it?
Bob & Ali: Naturally, we had an engaging relationship with our products in the gin store, not just because it enabled us to better sell our products to customers but also out of genuine interest to discover and experience more. It was our inquisitiveness which led us to build a better understanding of the wide variety of colours and flavour profiles that exist.
We were particularly taken by products that broke expectations with surprising delight.
Our social media manager (Key & Quill) encouraged us during lockdown to produce “serves”, predominantly for great visual content, but also to include recipes that people might follow. This really encouraged us to open up bottles of this, that, and the other, which we had been a little reserved about doing in the past – previously, we didn’t want to drink our profits away needlessly!
Some creations were weird; some were wonderful. A couple of years later, we had built a pretty extensive understanding of our key product range and more.
We spent a few further months developing our menu – yes, further tasting(!) – but this time, it involved some serious refinement and recipe making, and we’re now proud of the results and love to talk about the products we feature in our recipes.
What’s your favourite cocktail?
Bob: The Dry Martini. At its very core, the Martini is the ideal platform to truly understand the nature of a spirit. Just a touch of an appropriate vermouth to deliver some body and a garnish to set to the scene is all that’s required. The gin will do all the work here.
Those who enjoy tonic will drink gin and tonic, and those who enjoy gin will drink a martini.
Ali: The Martini. For all the reasons Bob has mentioned, I love the martini too, just not necessarily dry. The nakedness of the cocktail can make it delightfully simple but can also leave no room for error; get the marriage of vermouth to gin right, and it’s blissful.
I think you can add a bit of vibrancy to a martini, but I can speak for both of us when I say don’t let that be in the form of lots of sugar… so please don’t ask us for a Pornstar martini; we don’t make them.
Bob & Ali’s dedication to crafting the finest cocktails in Tunbridge Wells shines through in every drink they mix. Moreover, it’s not just the cocktails here that make each serve perfect, but also the cosy, welcoming atmosphere that Bob and Alastair cultivate.
Bob & Ali: We have always been cosy people. In the early days of our friendship and business partnership, we launched the Cosy Studio – a performance and recording space inside a Mongolian Yurt, to enable performers at festivals to connect with their audience in an intimate way that isn’t possible on a large stage.
Alastair continues to hire out his yurts for private stays and family events, but unlike the yurts, the bar never has to move. At its core, like the yurts, the bar has always been about making people comfortable – to be themselves and to make connections with others in an environment that feels like home.
the Most Welcoming Cocktail Bar in Tunbridge Wells
If you’re looking to share a relaxed drink or two with friends, there’s plenty of seating outside the stables, ideal for long summer evenings and crisp winter nights. For something a little cosier, venture upstairs, where you’ll find a large area with comfortable seating, wooden beams, warm ambient lighting, and natural decor.
This wonderful space is available for bookings of 15-35 people, free of charge (subject to availability), on Fridays (5–11 pm) and Saturdays (12–11 pm). You can also book on Thursdays or Sundays for a fee. For more information, drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bob & Ali: We’ve been told that our bar is like a Speakeasy on more than a few occasions… and we suppose what people are saying is that we have an unusual little place full of wonderful products to try, served by people who love to talk about them. All to be enjoyed in a quirky and unimposing building that is off the beaten track.
We don’t try to make what we have here a template that can be replicated elsewhere; our model is entirely dependent on all of the above pieces fitting together, and that makes our bar quite individual.
The Gin Box Cocktail Menu
The Gin Box offers a carefully curated menu of cocktails (and mocktails), including a secret-agent-worthy Vesper Martini, fruity Bramble, Tom Collins, and probably the best Negroni in Tunbridge Wells.
Bob: Our cocktail range is largely influenced by classic recipes. Quite a few cocktail bars have great creative serves, but the focus is not on the ingredients because, often, they’re limited to a handful of spirits – and those have to be “safe” choices that work across the board.
It’s like having all art painted by Picasso or all music performed by The Beatles; I love Picasso and The Beatles, but if the Mona Lisa were painted by Picasso and Bohemian Rhapsody performed by The Beatles, it would be novel but far less standout. Similarly, gin is not just gin; they’re a format in which distillers express themselves, and we believe it’s essential to do their products justice and find that cocktail serve that works for them.
Ali: Our back bar is full of variety. And our cocktails give context to allow the individual ingredients to make themselves known. Each recipe has been carefully considered to bring its ingredients to life and not overshadow them. We’re remixing original material into something that honours the original but gives it new life and a bigger stage.
There’s certainly space to be creative with some of the fresh ingredients and wonderful mixers in our arsenal, so we have developed a little menu of Mocktails and Seltzers, too. And if you are okay with a very tiny drop of alcohol (we do literally mean drop), then let’s talk Bitters with you – great flavour enhancers, olive, peach, and orange Bitters can add considerable depth to a very low-alcohol beverage, better than lemonade and lime!
If cocktails and mocktails aren’t your thing, you can also find a wide range of soft drinks, spirits, and beers, including Fonthill lager and ale crafted in our microbrewery in the stables. To learn more about what’s on offer at the brewery taproom, check out our post on IPA beers.
Open House Events: Cocktail Masterclasses and Gin Distilleries
Our Fonthill Taproom and Cocktail Bar open-house events are not to be missed! They often feature live music, talks by guest distilleries, cocktail masterclasses, and delicious food. Keep an eye on our social media for updates on our future events.
The Fonthill Taproom & Gin Box Cocktail Bar in Tunbridge Wells is open on Fridays from 5 pm to 11 pm and Saturdays from noon to 11 pm. While there, you can also pop over to The George pub for freshly cooked pub food right in the heart of Tunbridge Wells. Check out our kitchen opening times and book your table online!