Musing of a Barfly by Mihai Fetcu:
Who knows? But if they continue in such a way, chances are that they will. These days, if you go into an international bar, the probability of encountering an Italian bartender is pretty high. It seems that everywhere you go, instead of hearing a “Hello”, you get a “Ciao”, and instead of a “Thank You”, you hear a “Grazie”. Why is that? Why do most of the great bar teams seem to have Italians? And who are they?
To begin with, we need to look back in time and take a closer look at the Italian Republic. It is a well-known fact that their background involves an abundance of spirits and that should be the first clue.
Italy is recognized for generating numerous amaros, cocktail bitters, vermouths, liqueurs and spirits. The most famous brands at the moment in our bars seem to come from Italy. In addition, the Italian company “Grupo Campari”, is the 6th large player in the worldwide spirits industry and the birthplace of the European cocktail culture began there. Why? It’s simple – they make spirits, then they drink them!
Before the drinking process takes place, they have to prepare it. Here comes the magic. They developed some serious skills in the art of mixing drinks and the bartending level is so high that you can find an Italian bartender almost in every great bar in the world.
It is said that a good bartender needs to have a ground base of knowledge before he chooses his path. Whether the men and women want to be a mixologist, a barista or a flair bartender, they must also know how to deal with the other departments.
If we take a closer look at the coffee section in Italy, there is not as much to say. Italians invented espresso, this brilliant hot beverage who is making our daily life a little better. The first espresso machine was also invented in Italy, which pretty much covers up this topic.
In terms of mixology, there is a lot of diversity and Italian bartenders are really the ones who are taking care of their guests in some of the most iconic cocktail venues in the world:
Take “The American Bar” at Savoy for instance. There are so many good Italian bartenders there that in my opinion I think they should rename it as “The Italian Bar”. Bartenders like Luca Corradini, Michele Mariotti, Lorenzo Antinori are keeping the Italian flag flying above London’s bars. Another Savoy legend, Peter Dorelli the former head bartender, is another Italian bartender who has been with the Savoy Group for 38 years (24 exclusively at The American Bar).
Peter Dorelli also has a lifelong friend in London who is equally Italian and equally a bartender. His name? Well I don’t think that there is any professional bartender who hasn’t heard about Salvatore Calabrese. Born on the Amalfi Coast, this guy is known for a lot of things in the bar world:
- Inventor of the Calabrese sink which is widely used in bars around the world
- Breaking the Guinness record for creating the most expensive cocktail in 2012 (£5500 pounds)
- Perfecting some of the bar tools we are using today like the Salvatore Barspoon or Mixing Glass
- Has his own brand of Limoncello (famous Italian after-dinner drink)
If we take a glance at another successful hotel bar in London, we have The Dorchester. A very high class venue that has been led by Giuliano Morandin, one very nice Italian, who has been there for 30 years. Now he is retired but passed all his knowledge to Luca Cordiglieri, the actual head bartender who is changing individual’s life on a daily basis in his bar. What nationality is Luca? Well I think you know the answer…
Furthermore into the hotel bars in London we have Agostino Perrone who is taking care of his guests at the Connaught Bar and Simone Caporale & Rudi Carraro who are throwing a party every time they are behind the stick at Artesian.
We are going to say goodbye to London now but not without saying at least a word about two great Italian bartenders who are among the best in the world. Yes, I am talking about Luca Cinalli and Tony Conigliaro. Both have Italian origins and both share the same goal – making guests drinking experience unique every time. If you think I am babbling now, just go and pay them a visit! I dare you!
Why am I talking about London’s bartending scene you say? Why am so attached with London? Well, it is because in this day and age, London is the place to be for bartenders. Some of the most prestigious cocktail places are here and they are populated with Italians. Mamma Mia!
What I like about Italian bartending is that there is a lot of diversity among the bartenders. When I say a lot I really mean a lot. You fancy tiki drinks? No problem, just to go to “Nu Lounge” in Bologna and see Danielle Dalla Polla or if you are more a cultural type of guy, go to Rome. In the day, walk among the Roman ruins and in the night, go to The Jerry Thomas Speakeasy Bar.
If you are more of a molecular guy, then you’ll be in for a treat when swinging by Milan’s Nottingham Forest bar and being served by the legendary Dario Comini. Arguably one of the best molecular bartenders in the world.
Not that much of a traveller? No problem. You can sit, relax and enjoy the cocktail creations from a lot of Italian bartenders (and many other international ones) on Facebook. It is that simple. Go and register yourself to “Cocktail Art” a group founded by Diego Ferrari who has witnessed over 6000 subscribers from all over the world. That is one big bartending community and a lot of cocktail pictures!
Italian bartenders are always pushing the envelope. They always want to go that extra mile just to make you happy. Take Dennis Zoppi for instance, inspiring new perceptions of how we drink by traveling around the globe teaching bartenders the fundamentals of flavour. He was also one of the top 6 finalists in the Diageo World Class Competition, 2012. Aaahh, the World Class – a whole other subject for discussion but somehow in almost every edition of the finals, you see at least one Italian. There were so far; Max la Rocca, Giuseppe Santamaria, Giacomo Giannoti (these 3 guys work in the same place, how crazy is this?) and Claudio Perinelli who came last year 2nd in-the-world! How awesome is this?
I love the fact that the Italians, even though they are one of the best in the world, want to challenge themselves and they don’t forget that after all, we are all humans. One of these bartenders which I grew very fond of is Paolo de Venuto. He is travelling the world trying to get the best of bartending. He had worked in top bars from Bari, London, Barcelona and now he is in Tokyo, working at HI5 and we all know what is happening in there… What I like the most about him is that he is very humble and tries to help you in every way that he can. Last year for instance, he agreed (for free) to come all the way from Barcelona to Brasov, Romania just to help the local bartending scene to raise money for the famous campaign “Wine to Water”. We raised over 500 dollars and we had a lot of fun. Oh, the memories…
Another point of difference regarding Italian bartenders is that they always (and i mean literally always) want to share their knowledge and pass away the information to other bartenders who are eager to learn. So because of guys like Leonardo Leuci (and his Jerry Thomas crew) and Matteo Zed (and his Sviluppo Horeca friends) the bar world is a little better. Rome is constantly inviting world renowned personalities from the bar industry like: Jamie Boudreau, Hidetsugu Ueno, Anistatia Miller, Jared Brown, Sean Muldoon, Jack McGarry, Jim Meehan, Gary Regan, Steve Schneider, etc.
What about cocktails? Well, a lot of the cocktails that we are drinking today in our bars come from Italy or are invented by Italians. We have iconic cocktails like Negroni, Americano, Bellini and Sgroppino which delight our taste buds every day. God bless them for that. Could you imagine a world without these drinks? I can’t. Not to mention the other thousands and thousands of variations of these cocktails.
In terms of flair bartending, Italy is doing very well. Every year in the world flair bartending competition final held at the Roadhouse, there are always at least 3 or 4 Italians. That could only mean that the passion for this art is very big. Bartenders like Gianluigi Bosco, Bruno Vanzan, Dario Doimo are rocking the flair bartending scene every time giving away a great show.
In brief; Italian bartenders are the perfect combo of hard work, creativity, passion and unconditional love. We have a lot to learn from them and next time when you see one, just go and talk to them. They might change your life….
P.S: I am sorry for all the great bartenders that are not mentioned here but if I were to make a post about all of you, the space needed would be at least 10 times more. Saying that; here are some further Italian bartenders worth a specific mention: Davide Colombo, Mario Farulla, Charles Flaminio, Max la Rossa, Fabo Bacchi and many many more.
God bless you all!