Looking for the best bar in the world? You’ll find it at The Connaught in London’s Mayfair, voted number one at The World’s 50 Best Bars competition, and headed up by Ago Perrone, who has the impressive-sounding job title of director of mixology.
Perrone hails from Lake Como in northern Italy, where he was born to Puglian parents. He arrived in London in 2003, working at venues such as Dusk in Battersea and Montgomery Place in Notting Hill, where he was named Bartender of the Year in 2006. As well as making cocktails, Perrone began to travel the world as an ambassador for Italian spirit brands, and also found time to launch an online magazine dedicated to mixology.
In 2008, he was approached by The Connaught to run the venue’s new bar, and since taking over, the list of gongs and awards has been endless: World’s Best Bartender, World’s Best Cocktail Bar, Best International Hotel Bar, and many more. The bar is famed for its Martinis, prepared tableside on trolleys packed with everything required for the perfect cocktail.
Lockdown hasn’t slowed Perrone down, either. When he’s not busy training his team ready for the doors to open again, he’s perfecting The Connaught’s own-label gin, sourcing and hand-picking the botanicals himself, as well as planning new drinks lists and menus (“Monday to Friday is full on”).
This wasn’t the original plan. Perrone was set on becoming a photographer and travelling the world, and he only started working in bars to fund his studies – “but I fell for the hospitality world immediately”. Photography’s loss is the bar world’s gain – and Perrone is right at the top of the tree.
What was your childhood ambition?
I always dreamed of becoming a photographer for National Geographic, to travel the world and capture people and places. Lake Como is very small, and 25 years ago we didn’t have this variety of culture. When I was a teenager, Latin America came calling – that’s why I started to drink Tequila! But I really wanted to go to the more exotic places. I was fascinated by the photos, the landscapes, the people – it was very emotional for me. I thought that photography would be the tool that would allow me to travel, but now I travel the world and meet new people, and translate them into cocktails for my clients at the bar.
What do you know now that you wished you’d known when you were 21?
Nothing. If I spoke to my 21-year-old self and gave him advice on my future experience, I probably wouldn’t have followed the same journey, made the same mistakes and learnt the things that have led me to be myself today.
What exercise do you do?
I have a daily routine that starts with qigong [Chinese exercise and breathing control], meditation and a cold shower to kick off the day and stay focused. Twice a week I also do Pilates and I try to enjoy a long walk in the park as often as possible.
What is the character trait you most wish you could change in yourself?
Over time, I have built up a lot of patience, but I still tend to be very fiery at heart. While I wish I could change this, it is this temperament that has enabled me to progress.
What is the most expensive thing you’ve ever bought (aside from property)?
My camera equipment. Fujifilm is what I use mostly, with a vast set of lenses. I’m a Leica fan, too. Leica cameras make you slow down, because they are manual, so you need to know the tools of the trade, think ahead and wait for the right shot to come.
If you could live anywhere, where would it be and why?
If I could, I would constantly travel the world and ideally have more than one base. Like with cocktails, you make your choice based on the moment, the season, the feelings. Places that are home to me are London, Lake Como and Mexico (my wife’s country).
If you could do any other job what would it be?
I would be a photographer, to express my introspective side, and a life coach to express my more sociable character traits. I like to engage with the team around me, and try to share my experiences with them. If you are a barback, I’ll give you life lessons, not just to become a better bartender, but to become a better person. But as much as I am an open guy, I like my own time. Looking after yourself is the first step you need to do to look after other people. And photography lets me go into my own space.
What luxury item would you take with you to a desert island?
A Leica camera to capture all the adventures.
What haven’t you yet achieved that you want to?
A lifelong dream is to publish my own travel photography book. I hope it will happen. It will probably be self-published, and it’s a way to share my experiences. When I travel, I take a lot of photos. I already have the vision of what I want.
If you were king or queen of the world, what’s the first law you would enact?
Equality for all people.
Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?
Pierce Brosnan, and my wife Gaby, another big fan of James Bond – and Martinis!
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Chocolate ice cream. I remember as a child visiting my family in Puglia, where my parents are from. My uncle had an ice-cream bar, so as soon as we arrived, we went to see him for chocolate ice cream. Going there and having this ice cream was an amazing experience – and now when I find a good one, it brings me back to my childhood memories.
What’s your secret talent?
Pulling out the potential of people to motivate them.
When were you happiest?
You can find happiness every day just by having a positive attitude and caring about people. Happiness can be generated, not just found outside.
Who do you most admire?
My parents. They have always been supportive, but they let me go free, which wasn’t easy. When I told them that I wanted to be a photographer, they were ready to pay for me to go on a course in Milan, but I didn’t want them to pay for it, I wanted to do it myself. When I started working in bars, it wasn’t easy for them to understand, but once I reached a certain level, they understood that bar work is an honourable career.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Straight up with style and don’t forget the smile – my motto!
What’s your greatest regret?
I am happy about my journey and I don’t regret any of my choices. I have been lucky enough to receive great support from my family but also from my teachers back at school. If I could go back in time though, I would dedicate more time to studying school subjects.
What time do you go to bed?
I don’t have a regular sleep pattern, because I travel a lot, so my time zones are a bit mixed up – like a cocktail! But despite where I am in the world, I usually go to bed late in the evening. But when possible, I do enjoy an early night and an early start the next day so I can get my morning routine done, and have a full productive day.
What album, boxset or podcast would you listen to on a night in alone on the sofa?
Queen. I’ve been listening to them since I was 10 years old. All the tapes were in my Walkman. And now, when we’re doing the distillation for our Connaught Gin, to raise the spirits I put Queen on – The Show Must Go On is one we have to play. I saw the film Bohemian Rhapsody a couple of years ago, and I got very emotional right from the first scene.
What’s your favourite thing in your wardrobe?
My Ermenegildo Zegna suit made from Italian wool. I got it in London, and it’s tailor made, so it’s like you’re wearing your own skin. As soon as you put it on, you feel so comfortable. It makes me feel relaxed and confident at the same time.