“40 St. Paul’s sits on the corner of St. Paul’s Square and Cox St. Finding it when you’ve had a few though, is quite difficult” – Conor Rees
Ever seen people walking around St. Paul’s square, glued to their phone, looking lost? Well, If you do, follow them, because they’re on a pilgrimage to find the best gin bar in the country.
On a cold, grey Birmingham evening, I find myself standing in St Pauls Square, frequently checking Google Maps to make sure I’m in the right place.
40 St Pauls, located on Cox Street, has been named Best Gin Bar and Best Gin Menu in the country (not self-proclaimed. The actual gin police gave them a medal) and the excitement is heightened by the fact that there’s no sign, no bling and no lights – just a blue door with the number 40 nestled at the top. I enter the blue door (half expecting to wander into someone’s house), and Amanjot Johl (Owner, and one of the country’s best bartenders), stands ready to greet me in a cosy, homely bar.
We sit, and Aman begins unravelling his journey through the Birmingham bar scene. Former Birmingham institutions Ha Ha and Le Truc, a brief spell in London and then a return to Birmingham to work for Carl Finn at The Church.
“On a November afternoon, Carl Finn said ‘I don’t see you working for me much longer, I see you opening your own bar’. He was right. If you have the drive to be successful, and you’re confident that you have something new to offer the market, then there’s only one viable next step – Opening your own place.” And in 2015, during the height of Gin’s dominance, Amanjot saw his opportunity and opened 40 St Paul’s.
“Gin was in its peak and there was nowhere at that time, in my opinion, that was doing Gin right in Birmingham. Birmingham should have been leading the way in the drinks sector but for some reason, it wasn’t. There were some great bars in the city, but I could only really name 5 or 6 – and that wasn’t really good enough.”
Robert Wood, (The Edgbaston, Smultronstalle), helped out with the opening menu, and that December, 40 St Paul’s opened with great success. I wanted to find out how 40 St Pauls had become so successful. Aman attributes the bar’s success to the care and thoughtfulness put into each drink.
“My drinking habits have changed. I would much rather spend my money on a few really nice drinks that are made with love, care, and that use great ingredients, than going somewhere else and drinking a lot of drinks that are cheap and nasty just for the sake of getting drunk. It’s a trend that’s being reflected by people’s choice in food and drink over the last 5 or 6 years. People are drinking less, but they are drinking better.”
Aman’s nerdy obsession with gin quality is perhaps the reason why 40 St Pauls has one of the broadest offerings in the country too, stocking over 140 different varietals.
“The list is going to get even longer soon. I’m releasing a 40 St Pauls Reserve List, which contains 23 of the most difficult to source gins in the world. Some of which will never be produced again, some are antique, and some are still in production but are in such small numbers – it’s going to be really, really exclusive and nerdy, but I don’t care!”
Before I left, I wanted to ask Aman about his awards and what he has planned for the future after conquering Gin. He got up from his seat and walked over to the bar. Amanjot walked back over with a trophy in each hand, and nestled under one arm was a pair of 3d glasses wrapped around a menu.
“My aim is to try and win four more of these awards between October 2019 and May 2020 with our new cocktail menu – out next year. I don’t really feel the need to focus solely on gin anymore. We’ve already climbed those peaks, and there’s much more fun to be had with a cocktail menu. Each menu section has a bespoke piece of artwork (one of which requires 3d glasses), a flavour wheel and tasting notes, and we really want to develop that even further.”
“40 St Paul’s cocktail offering will go from 20 to 48 drinks next year. We don’t just want to be the best gin bar, we want to be the best bar, period.”
To find out more about 40 St Pauls, visit www.40stpauls.co.uk