BARTISTRY IN BRATISLAVA

Stan Vadrna

Stanislav Vadrna is a busy man, but the Beachbum won’t hold that against him.  Not when all the work Stan does is geared toward making the world a better place to drink cocktails.  When he isn’t studying Eastern bartending philosophy in Tokyo, teaching mixology in Berlin and Belfast, or consulting for bar owners in New York and Prague, he’s inventing new drinks for the two bistros he operates in his home town.

That town is Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia — and a serious cocktail city, which we discovered last week when Stan flew us there to give a Tiki drink seminar at his Paparazzi bar.

The seminar included a slide show with five tropical drink samples.  We arrived a day early for a prep session, in which we planned to inventory all the necessary ingredients and equipment, cook some syrups, and do the math for the sample drink batches.  But before we could even start procrastinating, Stan announced:  “Don’t worry, we’ll do all that work for you.”  Music to a layabout’s ears.

There was nothing left to do that afternoon but eat.  And, of course, drink.  We sat down with Stan in the dining room of Paparazzi … and didn’t get up again for the next six hours.  Between bites of fresh sea bream on a bed of rock salt, we sampled Stan’s original drinks, which were some of the best cocktails we’ve ever had the pleasure of freeloading.

First up was the Papa Old Fashioned, which Stan fashioned from Canadian Club whiskey, brown sugar, and Angostura and orange bitters, all muddled together and topped with a maple and lemon foam.  Good as this was, the next drink erased all memory of it.  The Milk & Honey combined fresh lime, fresh fig, milk, honey, and 12-year Yamazaki whiskey, shaken and double-strained, with a fig garnish.  The drink had an opalescent glow, a mellifluous mouth-feel, and a highly addictive flavor.  But the Bum resisted asking for another so that he could cadge a third Stan original, the Sage Bon Vivant (pictured above, with Stan behind it).   This turned out to be a sage choice indeed:  Havana Club añejo rum and a home-made sage liqueur shaken with fresh pineapple and lime juices, plus a dash of simple syrup, garnished with a sage leaf.

Bartenders from Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia attended our Tiki seminar the next morning; since their English was better than the Bum’s, we were able to zip through the presentation early, giving us all more time to sip the sample Zombies, Mai Tais, Nui Nuis, and Mystery Gardenias.

Stan had requested that we make use of a sponsor’s spiced rum, so for the fifth sample the Bum concocted an original called Captain Vadrna’s Grog.  Here’s the recipe:  2 1/2 ounces Captain Morgan spiced rum, 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice, 3/4 ounce demerara sugar syrup (equal parts demerara sugar and water, heated till sugar dissolves), 1/2 ounce white grapefruit juice, and a dash of Angostura bitters.  Shake well with plenty of ice, then pour unstrained into a double old-fashioned glass or Tiki mug.  Garnish with a lime wedge and cinnamon stick.

UFO

Next on the agenda was lunch at Stan’s other place, UFO (pictured above), a flying-saucer-shaped, space-age restaurant high atop a bridge straddling the Danube.  We were there for an interview with the editor of Bar magazine, Alexandra Tinková, but after one look at UFO’s “Liquid Menu” we knew we’d end up doing more drinking than talking.

UFO offers cocktails with such curiosity-piquing ingredients as peanut butter, rose water foam, saffron ice cream, and lemon “air.”  But for our first choice we went with the Maya Rita, a cocktail co-created by Stan and Aldo, UFO’s bartender.  We don’t usually care for ginger ale in cocktails, but the siren call of the Maya Rita’s other ingredients — fresh raspberries and blackberries muddled with lime, agave syrup, and tamarind-infused tequila — proved irresistible.  And a good thing too, because the drink was spectacular, with just enough ginger fizz to tie everything together.

When our main course arrived (seared pigeon in shiitake mushroom sauce with tapioca pearls, topped by a dollop of iced juniper cream), the waiter asked if we wanted to switch from cocktails to wine.  Maybe that’s how the foodies roll, but not this vagrant.  Instead we requested an Old Truffle Shine cocktail, Stan’s fusion of truffle honey, aged Japanese whiskey and orange bitters, chilled with a single large ball of ice (pictured below).  It really did taste like truffles, but that was only one note of many, all expertly balanced.  The ice ball, Stan informed us, was hand-cut from a block of ice specially treated for four days before attaining the proper consistency for carving.

Old truffle

Stan isn’t the only bartist in Bratislava who takes his work this seriously.  We visited other watering holes besides his, and everywhere we went the staff displayed total dedication to great drinks and great service.  They took their time mixing, concentrating on every little detail, and took pride in the result.  They knew their cocktail history too.  One restaurant, Casa Del Havana, even went so far as to re-create Cuba’s fabled La Florida bar, where Hemingway drank his Daiquiris in the 1930s; the decor matched the original’s with fanatical detail, right down to the red-painted cabinets and the mural behind the bar.

The Rambla bar’s “Georgian Vintage Mint Julep” was not quite as historically accurate, unless they meant the Georgia that borders Azerbaijan:  along with bourbon and mint, the ingredients included cassis and grape sugar.  But the drink itself actually worked, with the bourbon and mint front and center, accented by just a faint hint of fruitiness.

Our crawl ended back at Paparazzi, where, after refueling with a dish of pappardelle and wild boar ragù, we downed one of Stan’s silky Cuban Manhattans.   (Recipe: Stir 1 1/2 ounces 15-year Cuban rum or Santa Teresa 1796 rum, 1/2 ounce Carpano Antica Formula vermouth, and 2 dashes Angostura bitters; top with a sprayed orange mist and garnish with a brandied cherry.)  After that we somehow managed to stagger from the dining room to the bar, where bartender Katerina shook up the damnedest nightcap we’d ever seen, a Brandy Alexander with a white chocolate and red chili foam float — garnished with two bright red chili peppers, poking up from opposite sides of the glass like the Devil’s ears.

Just the sight of this revived us enough to talk Tiki into the night with two seminar attendees from Warsaw, Tomek and Marcin, who hit on the notion of bringing the drinks of Don The Beachcomber and Trader Vic to Poland.  If this sort of thing keeps up, Don and Vic may yet accomplish what neither Suleiman nor Stalin could:  coverting Eastern Europe to their cause.  Sic transit gloria mai tai?

STANISLAV VADRNA

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