My Last Drink with the Italian bartender Ciro Adriano de Georgio
One of the main reasons which has made me create the My Last Drink series, in the first place, is to be taken by a bartender to the place where he or she would have the last one of their lives and fantasize about it. However, where could we possibly go as Covid-19 forced all venues to shut their doors? This question gave me quite a challenging time thinking about it and I thought that I was almost on the verge of facing a pointless interview.
It turns out that the place chosen by the Italian bartender, Ciro Adriano de Georgio, has surprised me so much that I cannot think of a more perfect location than the one we have just been to together.
On a beautiful and sunny Monday afternoon, complying with all social distancing rules, we met by this gorgeous canal in the neighborhood of Westerpark, at a corner where Ciro improvised to prepare his Last Drink. He cleverly chose to use a bronze and stainless-steel table that coincidently has been on the street for 15 years (I later found out that this table is a piece of art called "Apen aan Tafel" (Monkeys at a Table) created by Merijn Bolink with the main purpose to serve as public art).
It is not every Monday afternoon that we find ourselves accompanied by a talented bartender, being poured a great cocktail, in front of a landscape that is capable to makes us all forget - even if for a little bit - that we are living in one of the most bizarre periods of time.
After a few minutes of conversation, I couldn’t help but notice that Ciro is not an ordinary man: he's a restless human-being, passionate about life, just like his father was. Ciro is always willing to evolve and fully committed with his work. Not to mention capable of changing his mind quite easily when it comes to dreams. Also, just like most Italians, he has a profound and close relationship with his family.
It was an absolute joy to make this interview. After speaking with him, I realized that more captivating than figuring out what bartenders would have as a Last Drink, is to capture the essence of their lives: they are all very hard workers; dreamers; constantly moved by challenges and transitions; they carry family memories that helped to shape their characters; they compromise themselves enormously to please their clients (with a touch of generosity) and they are also, sort of, lonely souls at the same time. As much as a bartender's career is surrounded by many people, the path of which they are required to follow can be quite solitary; yet fun and happy as well.
Ciro moved straight from Napoli to Amsterdam. I believe this took him a big deal of courage and passion. After seven years living in Amsterdam - where he also accomplished the prize of "The Best Bartender of the Netherlands" - he is ready to venture himself into a new and exciting chapter.
I am very glad that I could meet him before he goes anywhere else. For now, here's a bit of our lovely time by a canal river in our beloved Amsterdam:
*Why have you moved from Napoli to Amsterdam? These are quite different places, don’t you think?!
I was born and raised in Napoli, but my family had a business in Ischia, which is an island close by. My father did a lot of things in life, but video games played a big part of it (he developed and created new games). I used to spend school holidays in Ischia. By the time I went to University (I studied Media Communications), I kept visiting Ischia to help my family business. At some point they changed the video game concept which was not very attractive for the audience anymore because of the internet boom. They decided then to invest in a bar.
This became a two-floor bar with a club which remained open until 2019. While Ischia is a very touristic place, our business was also set up to cater to the locals, meaning we had to work a lot during winter as well. One of my brothers (I am the youngest of three brothers and one sister) was already passionate about cocktails. He studied and researched and decided to have his own bar in 2003.
I was inspired by that and went to London for six months not only to improve my English but also to learn more about the bar industry scene. When I went back to Italy, I moved from Napoli to Ischia straight away and I involved myself 100% with the family business. Since there I have been dedicating myself to this métier, not only by taking classes at the Sommelier and Italian Bartender Association Courses but also studying quite a big deal by myself. I discovered a new world! I realized how much I loved both culture and heritage behind the cocktail world and the origins of the spirits history.
Back to your question, though: at some point I wanted to travel, to challenge myself, to see different perspectives. A friend of mine who I was with in Rome during the Disaronno competition was one of the judges and he told me about a friend of his who was about to open a cocktail bar in Amsterdam. He put me in touch with this entrepreneur. Although plans were delayed for months, the opportunity then arose and I took the first plane to this city I immediately fell in love with.
It was my first time in Amsterdam. I saw myself in a place full of art and culture, beautiful and vibrant albeit still having the feel of a small, quiet city. I didn't know if I was going to be hired because they had to interview me first. But I took the risk and luckily, I was hired. The bar is called The Butcher. I moved in 2011.
For three years I lived in Amsterdam before hitting the road again. I discovered new countries during a backpack trip that led me to Australia, Istanbul, Dubai, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Hong Kong and Singapore. I moved to Sydney for a year and backpacked again to New Zealand, Brazil and Bolivia. Finally, I came back to Amsterdam where I was offered a job at the Tales and Spirits bar.
Passion and motivation are important drives to me but at some point, I did not feel that eagerness anymore. That's why I opened my company as a consultant from which I could build my network. After a while, a Dutch importer approached me to offer me an Ambassador job. It's a very special company called "A Brand New Day" whose relaxed mentality of enjoying and dealing with life I admire a lot. They believe in human connection, in taking care of each other and are concerned about motivation and happiness.
My work is very dynamic, sometimes it is about making cocktails or coming up with a new social media campaign or organizing a cocktail competition for bartenders. I really like the opportunity this company has been giving to me, so I have worked with them ever since.
*I can see that you are quite a free-spirit person who doesn't like to be attached that much to anything, am I correct?
Yes, and this is not always a good thing. Some people might say that I am afraid of commitment! But the truth is I love traveling, meeting new people, also because I think this helps us to understand ourselves and our culture.
If you only stay in one place and see only one thing, you will never see the differences that enable you to compare things in life. I think that traveling is also a beautiful way of learning more about yourself, your country and family.
I haven't been doing long trips since I came back from Australia (2016), except to India in November for three weeks. I like to see as much as I can and get lost in a country.
*Does this mind-set have anything to do with the project "gipsy-overthinker"? (referring to his Instagram account).
Definitely. This is a nickname I came up with a few years ago because I believe this explains a little bit about my soul. I am a gipsy in a way because I travel a lot although I struggle to feel at home in some places. But in a way, I can feel at home anywhere. I find it easy to go to a new place, to move, to travel but also after a while it seems I don't carry that smile anymore.
I have friends here but still don't consider this to be my home per se. It's like I don't feel I belong here; I guess I belong to the world, actually. And the “overthinker” word is basically because I think too much. My personality makes me repeat things over and over again. Work wise also, which pushes me hard to do extra work, sacrificing a lot of my personal time.
*You won an important prize a little while ago. Tell me about it.
I was lucky enough to join a lot of competitions in my career and I think the one that I cherish the most because it's unbranded – i.e. not sponsored by any brand - is The Best Bartender of the Netherlands, in 2014.
Anyone can apply. There are a few steps to go through such as speed, creativity, knowledge, history and personality combined with a few basic rules about technics and efficiency. It is organized by Entree magazine. It's a very complete competition as well as challenging. It's up to us to be smart enough to prepare different cocktails - either shaken or stirred - to use the grinder when preparing coffee while at the same time preparing a good cocktail, just like we would do in any regular bar.
I was extremely happy and proud to have won the prize. But after one month I left Amsterdam to go and live in Australia so I didn't take any advantage of the prize. I was very honest all along with the organization much before the competition started by telling them that I had already set my mind on this trip to Australia, no matter what.
As this wasn't a problem for them, I embraced the contest anyway. Media awareness and big brand contracts stayed off the table. Unfortunately I am a bit of a dreamer and at that time it was a priority for me to travel. There was a love involved, yes... Actually, the main reason for moving to Australia was because of a girl! We didn't end up together, but it was worth the risk, a great experience that gave me so much.
*The most important question: what would the Last Drink of your life be?
The cocktail would be definitely a Dry Martini because this was the first cocktail I tried in my life. And by saying ‘try’ (or taste) I mean stealing some drops from my father's drink. He was a Martini and a Negroni lover. Or more to the point: I think he was a lover of life in general. He passed away of lung cancer when he was 73 and until the last minute of his life, he was still making plans.
He wanted to have a vineyard in Italy. He was a very positive and energetic person with a really strong character who was also so nice with people. He was the center of my personal and professional life. I remember being a kid and playing around my father and two brothers: they would chat by the table at the Calise bar... My brother was old enough to have a drink and I sipped this weird drink with an olive, and I said something like "this is disgusting!".
Right away my father laughed and said: "You will understand later". Quite wise. Years after I grew up, I had the pleasure to drink with my father at his bar in Ischia. That's the emotional part, the attachment I have to this drink which is not just a cocktail.
But as a bartender, I see it as an icon and as a metaphor of our job or life: it requires the right skills, difficult to achieve while simultaneously being simple.
*We cannot go anywhere now. Everything is closed so we had to improvise. We came to this gorgeous canal which is not bad at all for a Last Drink. But let's say you would take me to the place where you would have your Last Drink. Where would it be?
I have actually never thought about where. Maybe because I am a bartender and behind the counter of my own bar would be the perfect place to have it, a place where I could make my own Dry Martini. I would love to be able to make my Last Drink and enjoy it with someone special, friends or family. It could be also at home. Funny to think that I would be making and serving My Last Drink at the same time, not being served by someone else! But if I would have to choose a place for My Last Drink, as a guest, that would be in Ischia at my family's first bar whose name was Alchemie. It had such a beautiful garden outside.
*Do you drink every day?
Not anymore. Before, when I was working at bars, yes, sometimes skipping a few days but now I try to drink less, and I do it more as a pleasure. Sometimes a glass of wine that I love: I know this is very Italian, but more than anything it brings back memories, it's our culture our land, where people cultivate something, the expression of the soil, the weather, it reminds me of family.
*Are you still inspired by someone?
Yes, by one of my mentors, Andrew Nicholls, who is from South Africa but lives in Amsterdam for a long time.
He was one of the first ones I worked with. I already knew him by name and that was such an honor to me when our paths crossed. I had made this picture in my mind before I met him, as an icon, and I was a bit intimidated. It turns out he is super friendly and a funny guy. I think we share a lot of values which is probably one reason why we have connected so much. For him, family is so important as well. He is a really knowledgeable person. Also, he's one of the best bartenders I have met, really creative, who taught me a lot about the basic knowledge of spirits and about techniques, as well as how to see potential in people that we work with. And, not unimportantly , about life in general as he is a very righteous and humble person. He doesn't work behind a bar counter anymore but has his own rum brand that is called William George.
*Speaking about personal taste: what is yours when it comes to drinks?
I like sours in general, like Daiquiri and Royal Bermuda. They are fresh and in general I like refreshing drinks.
*After you master all the techniques, what does it take to keep evolving as a good bartender?
First of all, curiosity, because this is the engine that pushes you to improve, to grow. If you stand still, this might not be good for you. Everything that is alive is either growing or changing. The curiosity will always give you a reason to learn more.
Personally, I love reading old books, especially to see how things were done before because a lot comes from classics. Of course, you have to be creative by nature to come up with a new Classic. What we now call innovative and crazy, maybe in 10 years will become a classic.
For instance if I think about a cocktail like Trinidad Sour, this is a good example. At every good cocktail bar in the world, they are able to make a good one; it's not a classic but a new modern cocktail created by Giuseppe Gonzalez in New York, years ago, whose recipe carries 45ml of bitter. When I saw the recipe for the first time, I thought there was a mistake. But on the contrary. I tried the cocktail, it's delicious. This is a great example of what you can achieve if you are motivated and creative.
Nonetheless, I think it requires also a bit of luck, meeting the right people and working at the right bar.
*You don't plan yourself too much, right? It seems that you are a kind of go-with-the-flow-person...
Sometimes I am really jealous of people that plan their lives a lot! Because I see clearly that I've never had that inside me; I always thought that I needed to find "my call" in life, the thing for which you are best creative.
So, I was kind of sad due to never having this. Being a bartender wasn't my first choice. My brother and father created a bar which I got myself into. I loved and went for it, but I don't think that was really my own choice.
I still kind of do that, seeing day by day how I can improve and reach new goals and things I find interesting but it's not that I have these goals in my mind all the time. Sometimes I try to work in that direction, so I wouldn't mind at some point opening a place in Amsterdam, a small bar-cum-restaurant with Italian products. I've been thinking about this for a while.
But I can't say this is the dream of my life. It would be nice, beautiful and interesting. But I really care for family and nature. Therefore sometimes I think I should just move to a beach on the coast where I would have a little house and just enjoy nature.
Honestly, I don't know what the dream of my life is. All I can say for certain is that I am a very family-oriented person and I would love to have my own family with kids. I've been so into this city and work, putting a lot of effort in that. Thus having a family with proper time for ourselves can be a dream in a certain way. Something simple, nothing extravagant; I like this idea as well.
But I can't deny that sometimes I change my mind over and over again. Perhaps I could do something to change the world, to make things for a better environment, for society, I don't know...
*Name a place where you believe cocktail industry has been evolving a lot.
Definitely Singapore. I was there in the beginning of 2015 when I was on my way to Australia. Everything was just starting for the new bars, new bartenders coming from everywhere, investments starting to rise. I remember going to the Manhattan Bar, a remarkable place that at that time was forgotten, nobody was going there. Now it is one of the best bars in the world which has won several prizes. I mean, in such a short time this industry in Singapore has made a lot of improvements.
*Three favorite places to have a cocktail, anywhere.
The Connaught in London, for sure; Jerry Thomas Speakeasy in Rome; and L'antiquario, in Napoli.