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Interview: Alex Kratena

The Czech-born bartender of The Artesian in London tells Natasha Hong why you shouldn’t dismiss hotel bars

Co-creator and head barman of one of the world's best temples to the craft cocktail, The Artesian in London, Alex Kratena pops into town with the Becherovka brand ambassador, George Nemec, for a guest shift to celebrate the first birthday of the Regent Hotel’s Manhattan.

Widely credited as the man who made putting 'artisanal cocktails' and 'hotel bar' possible in the same sentence, the Czech-born bartender lets us pick his brain for thoughts on the concept he helped pioneer and what to expect while he’s behind the bar.

You've been credited as one of the people to have made the hotel bar relevant in this world of craft cocktails. How and when did you come up with the idea to make The Artesian what it is today? 

My entire philosophy is based on the principle that classic hotel bars with the piano and arrogant staff, which don’t make you feel welcomed or comfortable, was the last place anyone actually wants to be drinking in. We've taken all that away, and kept what we felt makes a great bar. 

You've worked in and have been to the best bars in the world. What defines a good bar? 

I think that there are several elements. Every successful bar is collaborative, and committed to achieving its plans, goals and visions. The foundation of a truly great bar is hospitality, education and passion. 

Why did take on the challenge of a hotel bar when a speakeasy would be an easier sell? 

I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of working in a hotel. I am curious and I want to learn, but at the same time I’m thirsty for new things. And the hotel was the only type of establishment I hadn't worked at prior to The Artesian. 

What were some of your earliest challenges in getting people to take the hotel bar seriously? 

At the beginning, the biggest challenge was to get the people to come through the doors. Once they made it inside, it was up to us to win them over.

What are some trends in the cocktail scene that you've seen recently, that you don't quite agree with, and why? 

To me, there are only two types of drinks: the bad ones and the good ones.

What can we expect from your bar shift here in Singapore? 

We're very excited to celebrate Manhattan's anniversary. Expect a lot of fun, great hospitality, some of our iconic drinks and barware. In addition, we will be opening a barrel with some unique liquid that we've designed to commemorate this beautiful event.