AHL INSIDER

Sly Augustin

Owner of the legendary West London Tiki bar Trailer Happiness

Sly Augustin

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By Solynka Dumas on 7.27.21

I met Sly Augustin almost 20 years ago in London at my brother Charles’s place. I will always remember our first encounter. He was a complete force of nature, talkative, warm, funny, always on the move. The kind of man who seemed impossible not to love. 

About ten years ago he became the owner of Trailer Happiness, a tiki bar in West London. Through his incredible capacity to connect and bring people together, he managed to make Trailer one of the most respected and revered rum venues in the world. I sat with him so he could tell us more about his journey. 

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Trailer Happiness
Trailer Happiness

Solynka Dumas: Hi Sly! So tell me, how did your Trailer Happiness adventure begin?

Sly Augustin: Trailer Happiness is in West London on Portobello Road, which is the area I grew up in. I just discovered the bar randomly in the late ‘90s, before it was Trailer Happiness. But in 2003 it became Trailer Happiness, and I was going there quite regularly from the opening.

It became the spot where I would have my birthdays every year. New Year’s Eve, that was the place. I would pack it out. The vibes were amazing. I was always trying to do parties, but it was so much more difficult to do a party in the West End because ultimately the only question is how much money are the people spending.

So Trailer Happiness — which for a bar opened kind of late — became the place where I could bring people for a fun party and it didn’t matter what race, nationality, or how they dressed. It was just very informal, but the music was excellent, and the drinks were excellent so that just became my safe place. It gave me the same energy as New York.

Trailer Happiness interior
Trailer Happiness interior

Solynka: Then you ended up buying Trailer Happiness. Did you have any experience in hospitality before?

Sly: No. I bought the bar and just really fell into hospitality. It’s almost ten years later now, and it’s been an incredible journey, traveling to almost every corner of the globe and meeting wonderful people. I’ve hired people who have gone on to become amazing bartenders or bar owners in their own right and it just feels like a real privilege to own this place, to own this bar.

Solynka: Have you kept the concept intact from the moment that you bought it?

Sly: Yes. I understood the energy and the vibe of the place was very specific. It’s quite kitsch, quite playful. I didn’t want to lose that. I didn’t want to make it too sterile, too clean or modern, because I think that’s where it failed in the first instance. It had an authenticity about it, and that’s what I wanted to keep in the space. What I’ve done over my time of ownership is just to refine it where I can.

Solynka: I feel like Trailer became a reference in the world of rum. How did you manage that? How did you take it from a cool, vibey, Tiki place to a respected rum venue?

Sly: Rum’s popularity has really accelerated in the last 10 years. The only thing I’ve done was to make Trailer available to rum people, whether it’s the producers or simply the lovers. We’ve always done events designed to attract rum enthusiasts to just taste and talk about good rum. 

I’m a people person and I’m a traveler. I like to go to new places. I like to meet new people. I feel very comfortable outside of my environment, and I find it very easy to connect with strangers. It’s an invaluable resource and It just means there’s a lot of love and goodwill towards Trailer Happiness.

Trailer Happiness dance party
Trailer Happiness dance party

Solynka: Now, Covid-19, aside, what would you say were the hardest part of being a bar owner and the biggest challenges you had to face in this profession?

Sly: I think one of the biggest challenges is keeping your team cohesive, keeping your team together. It’s really about trying to find that balance where they come and they feel a love for what they do and feel you provide them with the best possible place. 

Keep people happy; let them feel loved and valuable and hopefully, they will stay. If your team is strong, you can handle any other situation. if you’ve got problems in the team, then everything else becomes that much harder.

The Trailer Happiness Team
Trailer Happiness Team

Solynka: What do you feel is the most gratifying thing in the job?

Sly: I think the most gratifying thing is definitely just a thank-you from customers. There are so many bars, so many places that people can spend their time, so when somebody spends their time celebrating a birthday or whatever it is in your place, I don’t take that lightly. That’s a real privilege.

Solynka: You were one of them.

Sly: Exactly. I just want people to feel what I felt about that bar. I want them to feel like it’s theirs. That’s what puts a smile on my face.

Solynka: That’s beautiful. What do you feel are the next steps for you and for Trailer now that things are picking up again?

Sly: I think that the whole industry realized how fragile we are. We need to build ourselves to become a bit more robust and have a more multifaceted approach so that we can sustain ourselves in times like this. 

Having outdoor spaces is something that has really come to the front this year. I ended up building a little station at the top of the stairs on street level just so we could do takeaway drinks. Now that we’ve got tables directly outside, that little space has become a very major part of our business. 

Solynka: I think we’re getting to the end of the interview. Is there anything that you would like to add? 

Sly: Actually, yes. I spoke about how a team is really important, but I would like to extend that to the idea of community in general. Community is key to any successful bar or long-term successful venture. There are only two ways to do it. You can either throw a lot of money at it and get designers and publicists onboard or you can build something organically and really invest in your community. Those are the people that will keep you alive. They kept us alive. I just want to make a point of thanking them.

 

Check out more Insider Interviews like this one, here.

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