Down a side street and behind a lime green door in Hackney, Northeast London, lurks the workshop of Bespoke Barware, a quirky drinkware company handcrafting everything from cocktail mugs with the likeness of luchador masks to punchbowls fashioned from custom-made cuckoo clocks.
Owners Jamie Wilson and Anjy Cameron founded Bespoke in 2012 in a roundabout way, coming from mixed backgrounds in events management, photography and concept and design development for brands like Bacardi Breezers during the ready-to-drink boom. Wilson decided to leave alcopop behind to surf and island hop for a spell, and then returned to London. As fate would have it, the art studio he set up was positioned directly above a tiki bar, a daily reminder of the tropics he’d left behind, as well as a source of new appreciation for tiki culture. Around this same time, he met Cameron, an Australian photographer and tiki devotee who’d been globetrotting herself.
In 2007, Wilson and Cameron launched Cheeky Tiki, their barware line and design studio devoted to all things South Pacific.
“No one was doing that sort of thing in the UK at that time,” says Wilson. “We were looking to get tiki mugs made for one of our clients and the only place we could find them was the States, and they were too expensive. We said, ‘I wanna copy that hard-to-make-thing,’ so we went out and bought a kiln.”
When they weren’t supplying London’s tiki bars with kitschy drinking vessels and accessories, they were designing and building bars from the ground-up. Their very first project, London’s well-known Mahiki Bar, is just one of the examples of their handiwork. Since Mahiki, Cheeky Tiki has designed two-dozen more bars in the UK and even one in New Delhi, India.
As the company grew, so did demand for more custom, non-tiki work. Hence, Bespoke Barware, which produces—in addition to those luchador mugs—single-serve Margaret Thatcher mugs, five-foot-tall Russian doll champagne ice buckets and shockingly realistic shark head punchbowls. One of their most famous pieces is an intricate skull cup complete with sombrero, which they designed specifically for Artesian at The Langham.
All of the work is executed at their in-house ceramics workshop, which they share with Cheeky Tiki and a staff of 20, made up of stylists, writers, ex-bar managers and bartenders, as well as ceramics and woodworking specialists who, together, churn out thousands of units per week. Ideas are developed and sculpted, molds are made and poured with clay, and after drying, pieces are smoothed and perfected before glazed and hand painted. The finished pieces are then off to be filled with cocktails and drunk from all around the world.
While there are a few companies in the States specializing in Tiki (Munktiki and Tiki Farm), there are no other small-scale manufacturers of ceramic vessels in the UK. And it’s safe to say Bespoke is one of the only companies in the world making Teddy Roosevelt cocktail mugs. “There are a lot of people trying to outdo each other with crazier and crazier drinking vessels,” says Wilson. “At the end of the day, it’s about doing something a bit wild.” In London and beyond, whimsical drinks and over-the-top presentation are no longer exclusive to the world of tiki, and Bespoke has managed to capitalize on that by never saying no.