Career Profile: Neil Millington

By Becky Paskin

- Last updated on GMT

Neil Millington, bar manager at Equus at The Royal Horseguards hotel on Whitehall
Neil Millington, bar manager at Equus at The Royal Horseguards hotel on Whitehall
The Royal Horseguard hotel’s new bar manager Neil Millington didn’t start out in the hospitality industry following three years at college, neither did he undertake an apprenticeship. At the age of 29 he was approached to leave his job as a cigar retailer to run a new cigar lounge at Che in St. James’s Street, and aside from a brief stint as a lift engineer, he hasn’t looked back since.

How I got here:

I was running a cigar store on Sloane Street when one day one of my best customers came in asked me to come and manage the cigar lounge at a new restaurant and bar he was opening.

It was my first taste of the bar business but there are a lot of similarities in the sense you’re customer facing in both retail and hospitality.

After around a year the bar manager Nick Strangeway left and I stepped up to take over. I’d been learning all about spirits and cocktails as cigar manager so I was in a perfect position to take over when he left.

Two years later I took some time out and went to work with my brother-in-law as a lift engineer for a while, but I quickly wanted to get back into hospitality and central London rather than spend my time sitting in a filthy lift shaft.

I started working with Conran & Partners, running the cigar bar at Floridita as bar manager. My knowledge of cigars was crucial to the position, without it I would never have got the job. We had a fantastic selection of cigars there - about 120 varieties. It all fitted rather well.

I was there for two years before I moved out of London to Chiswick and became bar manager at the Chiswick Moran hotel, which has a much larger bar at 200-250 covers. That gave me a lot of experience dealing with high capacity venues.

After four years there I decided I needed a change as I couldn’t see any possible movement my career path could take whilst working there, and I felt The Royal Horseguards was absolutely the perfect place.

It’s not an enormous bar but it has high standards, beautiful cocktails and a small but great team. I’ve just introduced cigars to the bar - we have a beautiful terrace at the front of the hotel where people can overlook the river and London Eye and sit smoking cigars contentedly.

My biggest influence:

Danny Smith, who’s a legend in the bar tending industry, was head bartender at Che and I learned a lot of my cocktail knowledge from him and also Nick Strangeway.

From the hospitality side of it our restaurant manager was a guy called John Davy who is the finest restaurant manager I’ve ever met. I worked with him for three years and learned so much.

The smoking ban’s impact on my career:

For a while the smoking ban destroyed the possibility of the after dinner cigar and certainly wiped out cigar bars as we knew them in those days. Smoking after dinner was a big thing at Che, but it was literally wiped out overnight. The restaurant closed just three months after I left.

Many people now have outside areas and are slowly turning those into dedicated cigar bars and lounges as they see there’s actually huge value in attracting cigar smokers.

The highlight of my career:

Has to be winning the Bar of the Year award in 2000 at Che. It proved to ourselves and everyone else that we had the best team, cocktails and service in London. It was lovely to see our picture in the paper - it was a great reward for the hard work we all put into it.

My biggest regret:

I don’t regret anything, not even working as a lift engineer, as I wouldn’t be who I am today. Being a lift engineer isn’t a bad thing as it shows I’m capable of doing more than one thing. It’s probably not the greatest thing to see on my CV though.

In my future:

I’m looking to get the bar started here properly and the business levels up but I’d also love to grow within the company. Guoman’s a relatively new part of the Thistle group and I’d love to perhaps get into the F&B management side of things rather than be on the floor.

I’m hoping my cigar bar here will take off, and it will be great if I can roll out similar concepts in our other hotels.

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