La'Mel Clarke: Throwing shapes

Dancing, writing and making drinks are just some of the artistic elements to Seed Library’s La’Mel Clarke, whose reputation as one of the industry’s up and coming stars is gathering pace. Earlier this year the Londoner was nominated for Emerging Bartender of the Year at the annual Class Bar Awards.

Prior to making drinks, Clarke had pursued a career as a dancer before heading to university, where he would eventually enter the bar trade. 

“I think going to uni derailed my dancing career because I went from doing full-time dancing to full-time partying,” says Clarke. “After my studies I went into the bar industry because I felt I could do it without any prior experience or knowledge, just doing the basic jobs.” 

In his early years Clarke worked at the Queen of Hoxton before joining the team which opened the bar for Indian tapas restaurant Dishoom on Carnaby Street. But his next role working at the industry stalwart Trailer Happiness shoehorned him firmly into the trade bar scene. 

After a brief time in Berlin working at Berghain nightclub he returned to London and joined Callooh Callay en route to working the floor of Dandelyan, when it was sitting at the top of The World’s 50 Best Bars. 

Clarke adds: “Even when I got the job at Dandelyan, which was my favourite bar to drink at back then, I was adamant I wasn’t going to be making a drink because they were the best in the business. But then I was given the opportunity to collaborate on a drink for their final menu, which was cool, and I only really started working shifts behind the bar until the first year of Lyaness (the bar which replaced Dandelyan in 2019).” 

Clarke’s reputation has grown under the Lyan Group and he is now floor supervisor at its newest opening, Seed Library in east London. 

When it comes to making drinks, reaching the national finals of the Patrón Perfectionists competition in 2021 gave Clarke a lot of exposure as a bartender. 

“I think I was flying under the radar a bit,” he says. “So when people saw I was making drinks they were more interested in me and it started to snowball from there. 

“I now find myself creating more drinks for the menu as floor supervisor than I would behind the bar physically making cocktails. I like having an overview of the entire bar, which is easier when you’re working the floor, and I believe making the drinks is only a small part of the process. You need to know why you’re making drinks and be connected with your guests, otherwise it’s not worth doing it.” 

Clarke’s infectious energy is one of the distinguishing attributes forging his career in the bar industry, but even he admits to the strains of hosting. “Over the past year and a half I’ve been doing lots of speaking and smiling working on the floor, so I get an urge to go and live in a random cottage to be silent and relax. But I think the best way for me to get balance will be turning to art – dancing and writing, mainly. 

“During my time under the Lyan Group I’ve learned a lot about the way I process information, the way I disseminate information, and the way I speak to people. Trailer Happiness La’Mel is a lot different to the current La’Mel, I feel you learn a lot more if you say less.”