In the earlier post, we learned from the famed South African mixologist Kurt Schlechter about his vision for Cause Effect, and wanting “to bemuse, entertain, and delight people.”

Each and every person at Cause Effect makes you feel welcome, and exudes warmth, passion, and knowledge in equal measure. When James “Trigger” Phillips is in the house, he’s greeting and beguiling the guests with his great humor. Here, Trigger speaks about what compelled him to partner with Kurt to open a business nearly 10,000 kilometers from his home in Ireland. 

photo by Bernd Ott

How did you get involved in Cause Effect?

In 2007, or 2008 Kurt Schlechter was flown into Ireland by DRG Redbull. He’d won a couple of competitions, like the margarita world championships which he’s won a few times. At the time he was flown over to show us how to flair. Flair in Ireland wouldn’t have been all that big ten years ago so he came in and we were all blown away by all his ice tricks and what have you. He’s such a great guy as well. I was working at a nightclub at the time and we clicked, friendship clicked. I went to see him for two weeks and ended up staying in Johannesburg for 9 months.

Then in 2010 I opened my own place, Chancers Bar, in Thurles in County Tipperary and I really enjoyed it. I took a little of Kurt’s charisma and his idea of flair and copped it. It wasn’t something that had really been done in my hometown. Kurt flew back over to train my staff and give us a little more of an edge opening up. It was a really positive success and our friendship has grown. Since then I’ve been over to see him maybe 20 times in South Africa and he’s been back—he was really involved in my wedding.

We got chatting about his concept for this bar and I was blown away by it. We were brainstorming and stuff and he said, ‘Would you like to be a partner?’ I said, ‘Of course,’ we were always saying 7 years ago that maybe some day we’ll open a bar together. It was only chuckles at the time but then as you get older, you start getting a bit more sensible and then you’re thinking down your future.

So I said, ‘Yeah we can definitely do this.’ He said, ‘Get your funds together and I’ll meet you in March.’ So he says, ‘Hey buddy, welcome, welcome.’ ‘I canceled work for the week.’ ‘Why are you here?’ he said. ‘I’m here for the bar.’ So the next day we came and checked this out. It was the first place we came to see and we put a deposit on it. We just knew. Because obviously the location is key here, I don’t mean to say when we got here the place was rammed, I’m just saying this was the place. So that’s how it is, that’s how I became a part of it.

I hear your family is in bartending.

Yes, my family on both sides are publicans of the bars. Publicans are what we call them in Ireland but I don’t know what you call them here in South Africa. Bar owners that’s what they are and that’s what they have been. Families on both sides have been reared inside the bars, from newborn right up to holding your own. I first pulled my first pint when I was 13 years old. I worked behind the bar for match days and it was busy. There could be 60,000 people on a square. We would just be so busy, ‘Aw jump in,’ so I started pulling Guinness’ and funny enough, I just loved it. That’s what I grew from there, you know?

For me, working behind the bar is like being out every night of the week. You don’t have to drink but you’re socializing, constantly meeting people. It’s the perfect job. I’m actually doing my dream job and that’s the truth. I’ve had loads of not so fun jobs and not so lacquer jobs, everything from scrubbing right up to the factory line jobs where I didn’t last too long. But this to me is the dream job, for sure.

Do you still have a bar?

In Ireland, no, not at the moment. I was going to have one but what happened was my wife got pregnant, two beautiful daughters, two and five. [When] the first little lady came along we knew it wouldn’t be fair to my wife or my family if I opened a bar. So we agreed then. But then when Kurt came along, I thought maybe it’s time. I want to get back to my dream job and luckily enough my wife supported me. I’m commuting back and forth from Ireland—not every wife would let her husband do that. It’s hard on me too, of course. 9 weeks this time—I miss my kids and my wife so, it’s unbelievable. Lucky enough I have great support from her on that side, she takes care she’s not crying down the phone, going, ‘Come home!’

So what are you up to when you’re not doing this?

I drive trucks; I drive for a drain cleaning company for a friend of mine. He gives me regular work and gave me the experience to actually drive a truck, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. I worked in a nightclub of his as well. I just love him. But one of the hobbies that I kind of make money with is that I restore vintage cars, mostly Volkswagen camper vans—the older the better. One of the reasons I’m here is to maybe find a few in Africa and ship them home, have achieved that for myself. I’ve got a collection of classic cars and rare micro cars and old vintage lorries. That’s where all my money is wasted. It’s not spent on alcohol, it’s on rusty cars, really old stuff. Just don’t tell my wife! (laughing)

Aside from enjoying working with your hands, you also judge some amateur boxing?

Yes, over at the Irish Championship boxing association. I do a bit of coaching there, I’m on a committee, and I’m a judge as well. So I will be judging. I did a little bit of boxing actually, I was in kickboxing for years and years, and all my best friends were boxers. I went over to the side of boxing; Judo boxing is what I did, boxed into the boxing stands. So it’s very similar to the boxers. Not the same, if you said that to anyone they would kill you. It was similar. I went to the boxing then I had a hand accident, which ended my boxing career before it even started. So I decided to stay on and help the kids right up from the age of six right up to being Irish champions, and Munster champions. It’s a great feeling, the satisfaction of that.

Sounds like you have a lot of different things going.

For sure, my wife says I’m never home. She says, ‘Yeah, you can go to Africa, you’re never home anyway.’ She’s kind of being funny and serious at the same time.


I am very passionate about that work and about cocktails and stuff. In Ireland, we are light years behind New York, America. Especially South Africa, anywhere in the world, Holland, for example, they’re way, way ahead. I was blown away by it. Anywhere I’ve traveled I always take in cocktail bars and learn and listen. The thing about Kurt is he’s the big teacher and I learned from him like you wouldn’t believe. The idea of him teaching other people what I’ve learned as well blew me away. We’ve actually custom designed our bar to actually train them and to teach them. So we’re not about getting the best bartenders here and keeping them forever and holding them back. We hope that every single person here will want to open a bar and to practice and start thinking about it for themselves here.

And that for me was a massive thing…helping people here in Cape Town. There’s a lot of poverty and unemployment and the fact that we’re picking up locals here that have been unemployed for four or five or six years, giving them a job, gives a great sense of satisfaction, for sure. That’s one of the main reasons why. And the focus on sustainability—I wanted to learn a lot about grey water systems and recycling stuff behind the bar. We literally have almost zero waste in the bar, everything from the fruit, to the skins, to the pulp, to the water, that’s stuff that I’m fascinated with, especially with the water drought here in Cape Town.

That’s what drew me in, that side of the project definitely pulled me in. I’m planning on bringing this back to Ireland. I’m definitely going back to Ireland, I promised my wife. This isn’t long term. I will be here for three years and I’m probably going to open my own bar, just like in Cape Town. And Kurt has agreed to come with, and his wife has agreed, the real boss. So the long-term plan is to get closer to home and do what I love to do.

So would you be working with local ingredients?

Exactly. Now what is there to do: I’m foraging at home and I’m already learning the different things like that from people who know exactly what they’re talking about because I don’t want to poison anyone! But what better place and people to learn from, these guys are doing it here. Even though I am one of the owners here, I am definitely a student myself which is definitely keeping me going. Happy days!

Cause Effect Bar