By Alwynne Gwilt.
It's never easy to mix with a new or unfamiliar crowd. It's something I know well. My weakness? Shoreditch people. Despite being a former Brick Lane resident, I still feel queasiness in my tummy when I need to attend events in the area. I can't help but wonder: will I be cool enough? Or will I stand out from the crowd, still a farm girl at heart? I can still barely pull off (or on, as it were) skinny jeans for goodness sake!So when I was recently asked to cover a whisky event in the skinny-jean capital of the world - at the Village Underground warehouse next door to the shiny Shoreditch House, no less - I felt those nerves tumbling back again.
But, being the professional that I am, I headed out with head held high, casting any fears I might have aside. The whisky I was going to drink would surely take the edge off.
The night was all about mixing, mostly due to it being a cocktail competition. The spirit on show: Auchentoshan, a rather fabulously smooth whisky that could easily appeal to even the teetotalers out there! I felt in tune with the competitors in the mix. You see, the cocktail king or queen of the night - ie: the one that could make the best Auchentoshan cocktail - would be flying off to New York to learn the art of mixing at the famous bar Apotheke. There was a similar competition happening on US soil, and the winner over there would be London-bound, working in prestigious 69 Colebrooke Row. As such, it wasn't just me who had jitter-bugs fluttering in my stomach.
Upon arrival at the super trendy, vast warehouse guarded by beefy rope-masters, my guest and I - also another non-Shoreditch type - began mingling.
Even if my jeans weren't quite right for the locale, I soon fell into a nonchalant "I'm not quite the right type for this place but I don't care" routine that I've perfected over the years.
Here are my tips for pulling it off:
1. Smile lots, look relaxed. If you can pull off that "I'm so relaxed I don't even need to pretend to be" persona, people will think you're too cool for school, in a good way.
2. Fake it. If you know nothing about the latest [cool artist, cool musician, cool chef, cool restaurant, cool bar], fake it. If you nod and smile, and throw in a few, "Oh yes, I do believe I've heard of [him/her]. What is your favourite thing about [him/her]?" sentences, you'll gain lots of information to use in upcoming conversations and pull off the fully interested listener pose pronto.
3. Keep watch. If canapes are on offer, stand near to where they emerge from. People gather around food like bees to a flirty flower, and it's a classic route for getting to know others, even if you do out yourself by questioning what on earth the strange floaty foam is on top of the weird grey base with unknown green bits.
4. Drink. For God sake, have a drink. Now, I won't lie to you, this can be delicate. It's all about getting the right balance. Too many and you're hugging strangers. Too few, and you begin to realise how boring most other people are. I recommend downing the first one quickly to get you feeling confident, and then easing through numbers two, three and four. Hopefully by then you'll’ve made friends.
5. Ditch the name tag. Now, this does leave you in the position of looking like you have gatecrashed the party. But, it also allows you to walk up to others and comment on their name badge (thereby starting a conversation) or, have others ask you where yours is. This could (a) lead to an Easter-egg style hunt for your "lost" badge, or (b) allow you to feel far superior, due to the confidence of not needing one. Either way, you're looking good.
6. Hide. If all else fails, grab whatever drink is nearby, and retreat to the loos until you get your edge back. Works like a charm and you can blame it all on indulgence of rule number 4.
For the rest of our evening at the Auchentoshan Switch - during which we watched numerous mixology masters make incredible cocktails under intensely-crazy, MasterChef-style time constraints - I followed my simple rules. I was even feeling so confident by the end that I strode straight up to competition winner, Martin Ball (pictured below) - a mustachioed, baggy jeans wearing bartender from the Corridor bar in Manchester - and started up a chat right in front of all of those cool hipsters. I couldn't tell if I'd conquered my Shoreditch dilemma, or if, in fact, it was just the effect of rule number 4. It is my favourite one after all.