Alessandro Palazzi

Bartending since 1975, and known as ‘The Bartender’ himself, this man needs very little introduction. We have the honour of sitting down with the industry’s most esteemed and experienced bartender, Alessandro Palazzi, who shares his wisdom on the bartending world.

Alessandro, please tell us how your career in the hospitality industry began.

My career started in 1975 after I finished Catering College in Italy, where I completed two years. At that time is where I learned about restaurants and bars.

How has the bartending world changed over the years?

When I started bartending, it was quite boring because there were only 50 cocktails which we had to follow, and we were not allowed to do different things. For instance, in Manhattan Kitchen School, we learned to make cocktails with Canadian whiskey – nothing wrong with it, but I prefer to make them with bourbon, personally. Now, we have far more products than when I started, and most of our customers are much more knowledgeable about products. There’s more interest in cocktails, thanks to the media where there is lots of content, not only about bartending, but also about the kitchen.

What are some of the challenges you have faced in your career?

I’ve been in numerous situations where sometimes it has been quite challenging. In a normal day, for example, at DUKES Bar, we only take bookings for in-house guests, and sometimes they forget to reserve. You find yourself in a situation where you cannot decline their request, and that is one of the beauties of hospitality.

During your time as a bartender, what is the most valuable lesson you have learnt?

I came to England after finishing college and I could not work as a bartender. One, because I was only 17 years old. The other was, I did not speak a word of English and I could not find a job. So, in the end, once I ran out of money, my first job was as a kitchen porter. When I was in Catering College, I had a lot of growing-up to do, and didn’t always treat others with the respect I should have, such as the kitchen porters. Later, I was doing it for a living in a horrible hotel. One of the first lessons I learned is that you must respect everybody. I am very glad I learned that when I was so young, because hospitality is all about teamwork and it is very, very important.

The other thing is, when you go for an interview or for a new job, you need to research about the history of the company before you actually go in. At the beginning of my career, I went to work in a five-star hotel without any knowledge about the place. I was sacked after two weeks – that was another very valuable lesson I learned.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming bartenders looking to one day head a successful and iconic bar?

Often, when I do seminars, which I love to do with younger bartenders, or what they call a ‘bar show’, I say that to become a bartender, you need three ingredients: you need to be diplomatic, acrobatic and charismatic. Once you understand the three ingredients, you are a bartender. Cocktail making comes after.

What trends do you see taking over the industry, and what advice do you give fellow bartenders looking to stay on top of these trends?

Now, in the world of bartending, trends change very fast. Especially in a city like London, which is known to be one of the top cities for having wonderful bars. For instance, take the Negroni. When I was in Catering School, Negroni was something that you would only enjoy before lunch or dinner. Now, we make Negroni all the time, and different types of it, as people are prepared to experiment and try new flavours.

There are trends arising all the time and, as a bartender, you must be up-to-date with these. As I mentioned, when I started it was quite boring, because you did not have any time to create or come out with new things; you could not take a classic cocktail and make your own version, whereas now, customers constantly ask for one. Also, certain spirits, such as gin, have become so popular. When I started, there were only a couple of brands, now, every week, there is a new brand and a new type of gin flavour.

What I recommend to bartenders, to stay on top of the trends, is knowledge, as knowledge is power. In hospitality, bartending is not only practical, but also requires the need to be educated. As bartenders, we have the facility to learn all the time, with support from drink companies and other outlets. At DUKES London, we constantly have training updates and briefings to ensure all staff are up-to-date with their knowledge.

One thing I like about London and the bartending world is that we are competitive, but we all work together, learning from each other. For example, we inspired The Connaught with the trolley, but they took it to a different level.

Finally, please share your favourite serve with our readers.

My favourite serve is the classic Gin Martini. The way we do it at DUKES London is very simple, but I think it is one of the best drinks in the world – we use an English vermouth, Sacred, and I was very lucky to be part of the creation of this product. We also use gin that is kept in the freezer and lemons from Amalfi.

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