SPOTLIGHTS TRAINED ON THEIR FACES, cameras flashing, the crowd in raptures, Alex Kratena and Simone Caporale took to the stage as Artesian last month for the very last time. Their reaction to taking the title of World’s Best Bar for the fourth year – something between relief and joy – spoke of the perfect closure. Not many get to leave at the top.
Just a few hours before The World’s 50 Best Bars ceremony, Kratena and Caporale had handed in their notices. The day had been coming but they wanted to leave with minimum attention, utmost discretion. Nothing has been said of their departure until now. What they couldn’t control was that nine of their bar team would be following behind them. On October 8, 2015, Artesian at the The Langham was named the World’s Best Bar and had a month to find a new bar team.
“Now looking back it seems a very symbolic day,” says Kratena. “But we didn’t just decide that day ‘we are out of here’.” Kratena was with Artesian for eight years; Caporale five years. In that period they redefined the hotel bar. The public will remember their extravagant drinks but what charmed the trade was their forensic approach to hospitality, not least their rejection of the stuffy five-star environment in favour of fun and spontaneity. But nothing they did happened by chance. “You have to plan short term, mid term and long term. Part of the reason Artesian has been successful is because we have always had a plan. But winning that night was a beautiful end to the story.”
To many in the industry, the duo’s departure will be unsurprising, yet the timing unexpected. The Langham management was “speechless”, says Caporale, but together with Kratena plays down the significance of their departure. “Everyone is useful but no one is essential,” he says. In the end, though, to Roman Foltan, Rudi Carraro, Balazs Molnar, Pierre Long, Leo Colson, Carla Davina Soares, Petra Ferencova, Jamie Rhind, Eva Kovacikova, their leaders were essential and they too handed in their notices.
“It was powerful to see – it was like a scene in a movie,” says Kratena. Caporale agrees: “I never believed the bond would be that strong. All of these nine made this decision without a plan for the next day. But we will support them.”
They may meet again. Kratena and Caporale have three projects planned for 2017. “There’s not much time to relax,” says Kratena. “There’s going to be a lot of risk, a lot of freedom and a lot of creativity – that’s the future. Our new projects are bigger than anything we have worked on before.” “Bigger, yes, but very different,” interjects Caporale. “More different than bigger”.
The first is the Multidisciplinary Collective, which somewhat clairvoyantly aims to “create drinks of tomorrow”. Part of, though separate to, this project will be a bar. “Don’t expect another Artesian,” says Caporale before Kratena picks up the thread. “The concept is very different to what you would conceive as a normal bar. Is it a bar? No, it’s not a bar. Is it a workshop? No, it’s not a workshop. Is it a lab? No, it’s not a lab.”
It’s not a bird or a plane either, but what we can say is it will be in London, it will serve “cut to the bone” drinks and likely good times. The third project will take the form of a not-for-profit organisation that will “work to improve the industry and the future of drinks”, says Kratena. “It will be a platform on which we question everything,” says Caporale. “This is a project with a start but no end.”
More will be announced in time, once plans have fully “fermented”. As of now, though, the team that will go down as one of the most successful in the history of the industry have served their last Lego elephants. We will have to wait until 2017 to see Kratena and Caporale’s grand plans fully unfurl but you can bet on some pretty hectic downtime between now and then. “It’s a metamorphoses,” says Caporale. “We are still bartenders and we will carry on.”
You get the feeling their future is also that of the industry’s.