Welcome to the first entry in our series, “A Brooklyn Life,” where we’ll be asking some of the borough’s most interesting people to tell us their stories—how they got started, why they moved here, what the future holds… Because the greatness of Brooklyn resides in the lives lived here, and the stories that result. Up first, legendary hotelier Ben Pundole.
I have a clear memory of my first hangover: I was 12, resting, trying to cool my head on the stainless-steel table in the kitchen of the Grand Hotel in Thetford, Norfolk, northeast England. It was New Year’s Day, 1986. My dad was cooking breakfast for the guests of his 20-room hotel. The same guests who only a few hours before were sneaking me sips of their G+Ts, Champagne, beer, or whatever I could get my hands on. I remember thinking at the time how cool it was that my dad was the one creating his guests’ entire New Year’s experience.
I didn’t think about the hotel business again until I’d finished my A-levels and needed a job to get me through my gap year right after high school. I got a job at London’s infamous Groucho Club (a crap job, my title was “cellarman”). I arrived at work at 7am, sorted the chef’s rancid laundry from the day before, wheeled in wine deliveries, ran food at lunchtime and generally did all the shitty jobs. I was in love. I knew at the age of 18 that hospitality was for me.
At 19, I became a bartender at the Groucho, a coveted position. I told my mum I wasn’t going to university to study English, and instead, having found my vocation, would become a bartender. Bartending for three years at the Groucho was better than university. I learned everything the hard way, from London’s craziest. I’d arrive at 9am for my day shift only to find the usual suspects had broken in during the night and were drinking in the snooker room. Having not been to bed, these celebrity reprobates would demand a bottle of tequila and a bottle of champagne, put me under the snooker table and kick me like a dog until I’d been force-fed three tequila slammers. It was 9:10am: I was wired and had to work, they were famous, chefs, artists and musicians and didn’t give a shit. This continued for the next three years.