Bartender Profile: A knockout career

20 December, 2018

Shay Waterworth meets the unstoppable Alex Kratena, former star of the Artesian and co-founder of Pour

WHY DO I HAVE TO do sparring and fighting? Why can’t I just do boxing in the gym for fitness?” This was what was going through Alex Kratena’s head as he was walking his bike back from the gym. Dislocating your shoulder in a boxing match is one thing, but turning up to an interview a day later and before seeing a doctor is testimony to Kratena’s determination to succeed.

The Czech-born bartender is famous for his time at Artesian but, having lived in Japan, explored the Peruvian jungle and been a regional downhill skiing champion, there is far more to learn about one of the industry’s top ’tenders.

Kratena worked in nightclubs in Tokyo for a couple of years as a teenager before moving to the States to learn English, while earning a living washing pots and pans. “The first time I went to the US I thought I could speak English, but once I went through customs I realised I couldn’t understand anyone,” says Kratena, adjusting a scarf he bought in Panama which was acting as a sling.

Once he had mastered the international language, he moved to London in 2006, where he got a job pulling pints in a pub. From here he worked at Orrery, a top French restaurant, and was entering cocktail competitions and making himself known in the London bar scene, but his next move was a turning point.

“When the Langham opened in 2007 I turned up to the interview in my bartending outfit from a competition with my box of equipment. I think they liked me because they thought I was a little bit crazy to not sacrifice either the competition or the interview.”

Kratena would spend the next eight years as head bartender at Artesian and when, three years into his reign, in 2010, Simone Caporale replaced Marian Beke, the pair went on to win an unprecedented four World’s Best Bar titles in a row.

“Simone had been in a few times as a customer and we started to hang out, we just clicked. He’d helped me with some cocktail competitions so I thought of him when the vacancy came up.”

Caporale is just one of the key relationships Kratena has built over his time as a bartender. The other is Monica Berg, his girlfriend and the third core member of the project Pour. “I met Monica at Artesian and on various trips around the world. We were just friends then we got together for the first time at Tales of the Cocktails. We first kissed at the back stairs of The Old Absinthe House. Very romantic.

“Monica and I realised we work welltogether, and with Simone too we’re a great team and it all just felt right.”

The other major relationship he values pre-dates the Artesian. “I have a close bond with my mother, she’s a super-funny woman and she raised me well. Monica and I went on holiday with her last year. You should never go on holidays with your parents. Oh my god, 72 hours was long enough.”

Since the glory days of Artesian, Kratena, Caporale and Berg have founded the not-for-profit bartender platform Pour, and worked on various consultancy projects, with still much more to come.

Being not only one of the best, but the busiest, bartenders in the world would be corrosive to a lot of personalities, but Kratena is as hungry and happy as ever.

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