He started working already at the age of 16 during the summer holidays at a local disco club. That year, he didn’t have good grades in school and that is why his father employed him to work as a glass collector with the intention to punish him as well as to motivate him. As he says, he didn’t move away from the bar ever since We bring you an interview with Simone Caporale.
The news that Alex Katena and Simone Caporale left the Artesian Bar at the Langham Hotel in London detonated like a bomb.
It was in November 2015, only a month after the Artesian was voted best bar in the world for the fourth time in a row. The two men and the other nine bartenders that were their employees, left the bar that they made to be the best, not once or twice, but four times, from 2012 to 2015.
They were also awarded (Best International Bar Team), and were individually declared the best in the world: Alex in 2012 and Simone in 2014. We won’t mention a bunch of less significant awards.
Nobody had a coherent explanation back then. Many bartenders, colleagues and experts were trying to explain what happened; various theories circulated amongst people …. The questions like “why?” and “is it even possible?” where made often just like when a movie star leaves the world too early, and known and unknown people start to call from all sides, praising it and begin to recount various adventures wondering “why him/her?”.
Their faces were present on all the headlines of various newspapers concerning the bar industry in that month as well as the next.
“We are leaving the Artesian at the top,” they said. “We are planning a lot of new projects together,” and that was it!
Our intention was to write only about Simone Caporale but we failed at doing that because the vast majority of his work linked to Alex Kratena, so the duo remains inseparable even through interviews. We will bring you a separate interview with Alex soon.
In addition to the Artesian, the ‘hotel bar’ benefited majorly from their accomplishments: a term that, until a few years ago, reminded of understatement, drowsiness, confusion, poor quality service, disinterested staff and boring uniforms, and that is now in a new “golden age” after the era of the Artesian.
It’s simple! One needs to simply look at the new face of some old hotel bars, primarily in London (Savoys American Bar, Connaught, Basoon, Dandelyan), and Amsterdam (Sky, Pulitzers), Berlin (Fragrances) and Barcelona, Munich, Cologne, Frankfurt, etc. and one will realize that all the above-listed vices where a thing of the past. Up until five years ago, they were all “dead” and now they are standing proud like they did a long time ago in the vest of more mundane temples of bar culture.
In addition to the hotel bar, the work of the duo has brought some revolutionary ideas to us bartenders and the entire industry.
They were among the first who started telling stories about cocktails, used the original never and nowhere used dishes and unconventional glasses, including all senses and all tastes in the experience of drinking cocktails.
They incorporated the unusual and always seasonal ingredients, used sophisticated cooking techniques; a third of their working hours were spent in the kitchen where they, as they have themselves admit, began to discover a new world.
One of the leading people from Bacardi, Jacob Briars, tried to explain their work in the Artisian:
“The Artesian isn’t in the drinks business. The drinks are immaterial. They are superb ,but that’s not what they’re selling. What they’re selling for 20 pounds is the chance to live like a millionaire“.
We caught Simone yelling at the booth of Drapo Vermuta and entertaining several enthusiastic visitors of the Bar Convent in Berlin. He was explaining that the mixture resembling sugar wool, whose irregular pieces he puts on glasses with cold vermouth, taste like pizza and that one needs to first eat a pizza and then drink some vermouth.
Simone is a showman with an infectious laugh who deliberately, here and there, inserts some Italian words in his flawless English. You are familiar with this charming style of our overseas neighbors. The thirty year old was born in Mezzegra, a village on Lake Como.
He started working at the age of 16 during the summer holidays at a local disco club. That year, he didn’t have good grades in school and that is why his father employed him to work as a glass collector with the intention to punish him as well as to motivate him. As he says, he didn’t move away from the bar ever since.
He came to London in 2008 with one suitcase and the intention of becoming a world-famous bartender. He came for a job interview at the Artesian in 2009, and the rest is history.
He immediately agreed to be interviewed and said this loudly and clearly in Croatian: “Thank you, good, you’re welcome and cheers ….” Laughing aloud, he told us that he was at his workplace and that we need to be quick.
Simone, what does a good bar look like according to your taste?
A good bar is every bar where you feel at home and where you feel special. The bar does not have to be neither expensive nor big for me to feel special. This kind of place can be made only with love. Although, I know some people who have accidentally made a good and special bar without love, but I still think that’s a rarity.
What’s your favorite, or better yet, give us your three favorite bars?
I do not have a favorite bar; there are plenty of bars that I like to go to. It always depends on the mood or the place where some of my friends are. I respect many bars and I think they are the best in London.
Do you have a favorite bar in Berlin?
I do not! Tonight we plan to visit a few of them so I might be able to tell you something more tomorrow.
Tell us what is your favorite drink, what are you drinking?
I’m a big fan of water. People do not pay attention to water which is full of flavor. That feeling you get when you are thirsty and drink water can’t be replaced by anything else in the world. It fascinates me because it is the only drink in the world that I can’t copy. Just imagine that you could manage to make a cocktail that would evoke the drinkability and refreshment that provides water; I think you would make a real revolution!
So, let me rephrase the question, what’s your favorite cocktail?
It’s just plain Negroni with Martini Ross, the legendary Italian aperitif.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am opening a new bar. I should not be telling you this but here! You have a little exclusivity (laughs). The bar is in London, of course. We have also opened the foundation ‘Pour’ with many famous bartenders (www.pourdrink.org). I’m currently doing a lot of consulting and it is quite exhausting. I need to at least calm down and settle down again in one place. Sometimes I miss the routine. I’m also working with Jamie Oliwer on Drinkstubeu.
You are talking in plural. Who is “we”?
Alex Kartena and I. We do most of the work together.
What are the trends in the industry that you don’t like?
I do not like people on drugs, bartenders on drugs. I’ve been noticing a lot of it lately and stuff like that kills everything nice in our business.
Are there things you wouldn’t change?
I wouldn’t change the direction where this fair in Berlin is going. These are basically experts, bartenders who share their knowledge. It’s great that you have came from Croatia and it’s great to see people from Israel, Portugal, Denmark, Norway, Latvia, and my friends from Japan are also here. I’m glad that the bar industry is developing ad that it is going in the right direction. I give full support to these fairs.
When are you coming to see us in Croatia?
I went there, but I sailed more than I have walked around. It is very nice, I felt like home and I am coming back there surely. Alex went there when he was a kid and he is constantly telling me some funny stories from Croatia; he was 8 years old and remembers little things, which means that he had a great time.
Simone, do you have any advice for young Croatian bartenders?
Yes! Be curious, explore every part of the food and liquid that you are working with, do not fear mistakes, but make them and learn from them. Always think differently then everyone else and never ever be like others!
Thank you Simone!
Thank you and see you in London.
Even though the pair is almost inseparable, at least as far as business plans go, we were able to catch them separately for a short interview. We are honored to have had the opportunity to talk with Simone Caporale, and you can expect an exclusive interview with Alex Kratena soon.
We interviewed Simone on the BCB fair in Berlin, and if you haven’t yet read our impressions, take a look at the article about the Bar Convent Berlin 2016 – We were in Berlin!
Lovro Vukadin (www.jiggerandco.nl) and Zoran Luki