Frank Thelen was born in Köln. He inherited his love towards gastronomy from his father who worked as a chef in the Hyatt Regency hotel in Köln, where Franks journey began.
Frank fell in love with the bar industry from the beginning of his academic life and after the Hyatt and finishing Hospitality school he started working in the Shakers bar in Bonn. After that he worked in Kameha Grand also in Bonn and managed Harrys New York bar in Kölln. His rise to the top begins in Shepherds bar, Kölln where he started attracting guest’s attention as a head bartender concocting exquisite drinks inspired by trends in the experimental kitchen. The next stop is Le Lion Bar de Paris, Hamburg in the beginning of 2014. At that time, he also started winning competitions.
(3rd place Disaronno Mixing Star Germany 2013., 1st place Bacardi Legacy 2014., 1st place Beefeater MIXLDN Germany 2015., 2nd place Havana Club Academia del Ron (Grand Prix) 2015.
Frank currently works in Roomers Bar, Frankfurt so, of course, he was more than glad to answer our call and after just a few sentences, we knew that we were talking to a professional, but also an approachable and open person. Frank radiates simplicity and calmness, but throughout the whole conversation stands upright like a soldier and looks you in the eye which made it clear why the German press calls him the “Gentleman Barkeeper”.
Frank, we usually start are interviews with the same question: Tell us, what makes a good bar in your opinion?
Definitely, it’s the fact that it is clear from when you walk through the door, that the people working there love their jobs. Those people, not the expensive bottles, are the reason that that bar is alive and not just a place of bricks and wood. That is, in my opinion the general recipe for success in all venues, and, if you will, all other professions. If you do something you like, then you don’t get tired and work better than those that have to do it. Customers see that and when you have those kind of people in your bar, success is guaranteed.
Where would the world be if employers noticed and appreciated people like this more?! But tell us which are your top three bars?
(laughter) I have a lot more than three but if I have to pick it would be: Gekkos Bar in Frankfurt, Goldene Bar in Munich and Spirits in Kölln.
And in Berlin?
It’s definitely Bar Immertreu; a great place and one of the few bars where I feel like at home. That’s also the place where you always find a few other bartenders. I’m somewhat of a regular there for the duration of BcB.
Your favourite drink?
That always depends on the mood. If I am or if I am not, I always drink a standard Daiquiri. If it’s a good day then a drink a Martini, but not too dry, I like to taste the Vermouth. If I have to think then it’s the Gibson and if I don’t want to think, there’s the Corn ‘n’ Oil. But if and when I’m enjoying myself then I choose between good old Bourbon and a Rum Old Fashioned.
Where do you work at the moment?
At the moment I work at the Roomers in Frankfurt and I’m in charge of the creative part of the bar. We’re working on a new menu in which we are trying to combine the bar design and its history with our colours which are black and gold and present it to the customer as a whole, that is, through a drink. Umm, I don’t know if I said this right, it sounds a bit strange, but trust me.
In which direction is the bar scene developing, what are the latest trends?
Everything that’s happening now is good. I think the trends are at a peek now and it’s hard to come up with something new. We saw and worked with things such as cold brew, sous vide, barrel aging, today we make our own ice and so on. Now we have to decide if we’re going to work in a bar or a laboratory? (laughter) I think we should focus on classics and continue working in bars, but who knows, I might be wrong. Nevertheless, everything is going in the right direction, the customers are the ones profiting from all of this, they’re drinking better than ever before!
Is there anything else that bothers you?
Yes, it’s the colleagues that forget the essence of this job, act arrogant, put themselves in the spotlight and that are, by no way, the manners of a real bartender. They don’t learn their craft behind the bar but on YouTube. That’s what we call “Startenders” here in Germany. They aim to accomplish quick fame but also soon, when the damage is already done, quit working behind the bar. A bartender should be humble, he should listen and do more and talk less because listening is the biggest attribute of a good bartender.
Share the recipe for your favourite drink with us.
Gladly! This is one of the drinks from our new menu and it’s called “Sweetest Taboo”. 40ml Beefeater Gin, 20ml Williams Pear Schnaps, 20ml Lillet Blanc infused with bay leaves, 40ml Sour cherry and red wine shrub and 10ml lemon juice. The garnish is a crusta made from chai tea and powdered sugar.
Frank, is there a book you could recommend to every bartender?
I love Cocktails by Klaus St. Reiner and Cocktailkunst by Stephan Hintz. Both of them are good for inspiration but the second one is, I would say, revolutionary because of never seen and unique drinks. There’s one more, a book named “Cocktailian” which is focused mostly on the bar and bar business.
Have you already been to Croatia?
Unfortunately not but I definitely plan on spending one vacation in Croatia. Maybe you can recommend a cool place. (laughter)
Of course, as soon as the microphone is off! (laughter) Do you have any advice for young bartenders?
Always be hungry for knowledge and never stop learning! Always try to be better and don’t get flustered by obstacles! Act like a bartender as well as a gentleman! Don’t try to be a star, just try to do your job the best that you can and the results will surely come. They always do.
Thank you Frank and see you in Roomers?
Thank you too, it will be a pleasure to host you.
Lovro Vukadin (www.jiggerandco.nl) and Zoran Lukić