Article

Last Night a Cocktail Saved my Life

Astronaut? Movie star? No, make that a bartender. Nick Midgley asks some industry icons to cast their minds back to that defining moment when they realised their career lay behind the stick


Agostino Perrone
I frequented a friend’s bar instead of going to school, and my original dream was to travel and discover new cultures by being a photographer. I eventually realised the dream in a different way!
When I came to London for the first time, I walked into LAB and Dre Masso was flaming Blazer cocktails. That moment is still in my mind, but my first love was, of course, the Negroni. It’s perfect as an aperitif, and it also has really good digestif properties. If you need a bit of sweetness in your life you can go for it; and it can give you some bitter moments also. I still serve it on a daily basis. It’s great to experiment with different styles of vermouth, and to tailor the Negroni for different palates and tastes.

Giuliano Morandin
I’ve worked in hotels since I was fourteen. At my first job I was meant to be a porter but was attracted to the bar straight away – it was love at first sight! I spent more time there than behind the actual porter’s desk.
It really got going for me when I went to Bonn, back when it was the German capital. The guy behind the bar was a major player in the town, and I really admired him. One day he asked if I wanted
to work in the bar. He must have felt that I really had something to offer, and he took me under his wing.
We weren’t as aware of cocktails then as we’ve become recently. We’d serve a fair amount of vermouth or Martinis or Whisky Sours, and the occasional classic but nothing like more recently. People just didn’t want them. We’d read about them in books of course, but when I first put a Mojito on the menu, nobody ordered it!
Nowadays I love the Perfect 10 Martini. It’s a purist’s drink, a classic. For me Tanqueray Ten is the best gin ever. It’s got a lot of body and it’s so
smooth you barely feel any burn from it. I often substitute orange bitter for grapefruit to give it a twist, and use vermouth with lots of orange nuances.

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Ian Burrell
I made my first cocktail while taking a year off from my education and it was love at first shake! It was great being able to create so many compounds by using the various elements on my back bar. I loved chemistry and this was applied science, but without the long white coat, and with more sex appeal than your average lab rat!
The Freddy Fudpucker and Sex on the Beach were both popular drinks at the time, but the first was a Slow Comfortable Screw up Against the Wall. When I got my first
fat tip I thought ‘This is it, easy money!’ I’ve since divorced the Slow Comfortable Screw... and traded in for a newer model. I wouldn’t serve it any more unless you asked very nicely and for it to be made with rum!

Glen Hooper
Mixology for me properly started years after I began bartending, but my first love was The Rusty Nail. Since as early as I can remember there was Drambuie and whisky in our house, and when I lived in Chile it was the first cocktail I learnt to order in Spanish – Clavo Oxido!
It’s a bit of a rarity bar-call nowadays but there’s a time and a place for it. If made well it’s lovely and lots of people have memories and stories involved with it. When I started making it I was using whatever blends were available, then I started using some malts and those with finishes. Other countries’ whiskies can take the pairing, and cask strengths can be interesting too. She probably made me interested in her friend the Manhattan, who gets my attention more often now.

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Anistatia Miller
My dad was in the liquor business, so I got my first taste of bartending by default. I got my first bartending job when I was sixteen during a summer holiday; that’s when the ‘bug’ hit. It really came to fruition when I married Jared [Brown] in 1992. That’s when we obsessed on mixology 24/7.
My first love was the Martini. Nothing brings out the beauty of a well-crafted gin like a Martini. My dad took me for my first at the American Bar at the Savoy. Every time I went there decades after, the ambience and the drink came together in a way that couldn’t
be rivalled. Oh yes, and this charming bartender named [Peter] Dorelli made the Martini sing even sweeter notes to me!

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Dale deGroff
I was working as a waiter at Charley O’s in the Rockefeller Center when one day the manager was frantically looking for a bartender to work at a party off-premise. I said I was a bartender (a flat out lie) so she said ‘get your stuff, we’re loading the truck’. I went to Mike Flynn, a wonderful Irish bartender there, and asked him to jot down six or eight popular cocktail recipes on an index card and away I went. Mike Flynn taught me through example how to handle a bar. He was an absolute gentleman; always in control without any show about it.
The party was at Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s residence here in NYC. I did the gig serving Tab, Perrier and vodka and gin tonics and thought that this bartending stuff was a snap. Mayor Beame was presenting the key of the City to Rupert Murdoch who had just purchased the NY Post. Twenty-something years later I was asked to create drinks for Murdoch’s 70th birthday party in his duplex loft on Spring Street. He came up to the bar and said: ‘So you’re the hot shit cocktail guy!’ I replied: ‘Mr Murdoch our fortunes have risen together in this town,’ and I told him the story of my first day bartending at Gracie Mansion.

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Helmut Adam
I spent a lot of my early income on White Russians in the First Floor bar in Vienna. Joe was the head bartender; a Nigerian whose movements behind the bar looked like ballet or a waltz; he was a great guy and a great host. I think that’s where it hit me, the creativity, the atmosphere, the crowd gathering at the counter.
When I started tending bar I got into bourbon sours. There was something incredibly soft and heart-warming about them, and they were very fashionable in Vienna at the end of the 1990s, but my body doesn’t get along too well with bourbon nowadays. Maybe we have to blame those East Coast bartenders at Tales of the Cocktail a couple of years ago, who spoilt our relationship. Ten rounds of bourbon shots at The Old Absinthe House did me in! I’m more of a gin drinker now.

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Paul Mant
I was working at a nightclub and trained at LAB on Old Compton Street, with a guy called Jamie Tyrell. On the first evening we went to a bar called Che, owned by Hani Farsi – he showed me around and it was all very cool. He took me to the cigar room, and there was a bottle of Napoleon’s own cognac. It was £350 for a 25ml shot, and it blew my mind that the guy who was training me had access to places like this.
Later we went to Jamie Oliver’s restaurant Fifteen, which was just about to open. I met the bar manager, Colin Appiah, and we dined completely free. I went home to Ascot and realised that there really was something to this, and that it wasn’t in Berkshire.
My first love wasn’t really a cocktail as such, more the idea that you can make something yourself. During the day at the golf club it was pretty quiet and there was literally no stock control so I could waste as much booze as I liked making cocktails. I didn’t know anything about fresh juice and I even spent an entire day trying to make my own sour mix from the instructions in a book. Looking back it was comical. We don’t use anything like that at Quo Vadis now. We’re proponents of fresh juice and home-made syrups. It couldn’t be further from where I started off...

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Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – September/October 2010

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