Back in 2005, I got an email from Stanislav Kaiholomālie Vadrna asking me if he could attend my Cocktails in the Country bartending workshop. Is this cat actually going to fly in from Bratislava, Slovakia, to New York’s Hudson Valley for this? Very few bartenders were globe-trotters back then. “Send me a hundred bucks,” I told him. A week later, C-note in hand, I reserved a seat for him my class.
Since then Stan and I have shared many adventures—he invited me to judge a cocktail competition in Bratislava in 2007 (and we even got tattoos together on that trip); I was one of his two best men at his New York wedding to the lovely Yasmin (veteran New York bartender Eben Freeman was the other best man); and we once traveled around the U.S. together with a few other bartenders holding bartending seminars.
He was recently in New York working with Nikka Whisky as the brand’s Hospitality Advocate, and he visited my wife, Amy, and me at our house where we got to talking over drinks.
When the subject of Slovak bartenders came up I told Stan that I’m frequently asked “what’s the cocktail capital of the world?” And my standard answer is always Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia. Why is that? You might well ask.
In London, Marian Beke is a partner in The Gibson, a very stylish, well-regarded cocktail bar. You’ll find Maroš Dzurus behind the stick at HIMKOK in Oslo, Norway. Martin Čudkez Čudrnák works at Curfew, the acclaimed cocktail bar in Copenhagen, Denmark. And in Singapore, MiMi Lorandova Schofield is the senior spirits evangelist at Proof and Company that owns 28 Hong Kong Street and Junior. These dudes are all Slovak. And these guys are just the tip of the Slovak iceberg. We also have to talk about Erik Lorincz.
Erik, as you might know, was the head bartender at the legendary American Bar in London’s Savoy Hotel until he left recently to open his own joint. What you probably don’t know, though, is that Erik and Stan have known each other since they were teenagers, and after Stan had traveled to the Japan a few times on his own to study with the famous bartender Kazuo Uyeda, they went together in 2007 .
I told Stan my theory that he and Erik were responsible for the large number of Slovak bartenders behind so many of the world’s best bars. Was I right?
“Yeah, probably, yes,” he admitted sheepishly. “Maybe I had my hand on this fad, but back then, I was not thinking about that.”
Stan just loves to share, and when he returned from his trips he shared his adventures with other Slovak bartenders. They, in turn, saw a way to further their careers by traveling afar. The seeds were sewn.
The aforementioned Marian Beke, who has done very well for himself in London, can attest to this: “[Stan and I] were working together at the Paparazzi in Bratislava, and seeing him when he returned from London made me move there.”
And Ladislav Piljar, who is currently the business development manager for a small, prestigious, chain of bars in Edinburgh, met Stan when he worked at the Merchant Hotel in Belfast. Stan gave a presentation at the hotel, and his passion rubbed off on Ladislav. “I’d [studied at the] Hospitality Academy in Slovakia but somehow never imagined it would be my career until Stan opened that door,” he told me. “I was blown away with his Japanese [bartending] equipment—it was the first time I had seen such things, and I also remember Stan being completely in the moment, focusing on every movement, every word. It made me proud that someone from Slovakia could go that far.”
I’m tempted to shout quod erat demonstrandum at this point, but I doubt that the gods of debate would allow me to go that far. Nonetheless, as far as I’m concerned, Stan and Erik opened up new worlds for so many young Slovaks, leading them by example and transforming them into a band of cocktail minstrels. Their work helped to define the 21st-century cocktail movement that has taken the world by storm.
Let’s thank God for that.
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