Setting the bar

In working on a story about bar business for the April issue of HOTELS, I came across many individuals uniquely dedicated to innovation in the beverage space, particularly in a hotel setting.

One of those individuals is Alex Kratena, head mixologist at Artesian at The Langham, London since it opened in 2007. Among other accolades, Kratena was named International Bartender of the Year at the Tales of the Cocktail 2012 Spirited Awards. He shared his thoughts about what makes hotel bars special and what he believes the next big trends will be.

Ann Bagel Storck: What unique challenges does running a bar that is part of a hotel present that are different than what you might face at a freestanding bar?

Alex Kratena
Alex Kratena

Alex Kratena: A hotel is a world of it’s own, and everything is connected with everything. In a freestanding bar you concentrate only on that; in a hotel, on the other hand, you see things in context. It can be challenging, but equally the rewards are so much higher.

ABS: How have hotels’ bar programs in general evolved in recent years?

AK: Over the last few years we’ve seen a radical shift in hotel beverage programs. People realized that hotel bars can be a source of huge revenues, and in order to achieve those, programs need to be relevant to the 21st century in all aspects. There is now so much more space for creativity. It’s all about integrity, being true to the time and place where you are.

ABS: What is your prediction for the next big thing in hotel beverage programs?

AK: Modern hotel beverage programs question everything they’ve been doing for hundreds of years and ask, how can we do this better? The focus is on service, product, ingredients and finding new, innovative ways we can stimulate all the senses.

Ten years ago I couldn’t imagine a hotel bar stocking mezcal, whilst today there’s a selection of mezcals based around different agave varietals. Five years ago it was a scandal to have a slushy machine behind the bar, whilst now there are hotel programs that base their concept around that.

I can’t see any reason why hotel bars shouldn’t be experimenting with fermentation if it brings something special, new and really interesting to the game.