In about six weeks, Bar Convent will set its stall in Sao Paulo. That the world’s biggest bar-show picked Brazil ahead of other South American countries is an economical decision, but from a cocktail perspective, it can come as a surprise — countries such as Argentina or Peru have made more noise internationally. But things have been changing over the last couple of years and a new generation of bartenders is showing Brasil under a new light. One of them is Márcio Silva, who runs Sao Paulo’s Guilhotina since late 2016.
Guilhotina was an instant success story: within 6 months of opening, the bar was nominated as one of the 10 best new international cocktail cars at Tales of the Cocktails’ Spirited Awards. The following year they were recognised at the same event as one of the 10 best bars on the continent and the 10 best bar teams. They also made the top 100 at the World’s 50 Best Bars for the last two years. That’s quite impressive for a Brazilian bar — a beautiful country, to be sure, but not seen as a cocktail destination. To think that it almost did not happen at all… As Márcio told us, if it hadn’t been for a conversation with his father, Guilhotina would never have opened. « I had this offer to go to Singapore and I was very excited about it but I had dinner with my dad and he asked me a question that made me think ». Basically, his father was wondering if there was something he hadn’t done in Brasil and wanted to do. The answer was « to run his own bar ».
Although this seems like an obvious answer, in Márcio’s case it wasn’t. At that point, most of his career had happened abroad — he grew up overseas — to the point that he didn’t really feel Brazilian. When he had first come back, in 2009, the contrast was rough: « I talked about cocktails and people didn’t understand me », he remembered. This didn’t prevent him from working to address that issue. First, as the mixology manager at SubAstor, to this day one of Brasil’s leading cocktail venues. Second, as an educator for various brands, delivering trainings all over the country. From 2012, he focused on his consultancy business, travelling globally. His chat with his father helped him realise that he wanted to feel more Brazilian.
He opened Guilhotina with two partners and, in the process, leveraged all his experience — the goodwill garnered in Brasil and the international network — to make an immediate impact. Before they even opened, a guerrilla marketing campaign helped Guilhotina set itself apart: Márcio asked his international contacts — « many of them own bars from the World’s 50 Best list » — to share the hashtag #loseyourhead. « They posted it and when we opened the bar was already well known all around the world ». The striking name helped, although don’t look for any French Revolution reference. « It stands for ‘cut the bullshit’ », Márcio explained. « I felt that bartenders where misunderstanding the ‘handcrafted’ concept, they wanted to explain everything and they started to be boring. I wanted to show people a different experience, nice and fun ».
The idea was to bring to Sao Paulo a new type of hospitality and service matched with impeccable « classics with a Brazilian twist ». This has helped Márcio come to term with his country. « A produce can taste completely different in the North or in the South. This is more than a country — it’s a continent. I always felt like a fish out of water here. But since I have Guilhotina, I’ve never felt more Brazilian. I’ve learned so much about the country. Here, we want to show a different Brazil to Brazilians and show Brazil to the world ». The latter means he is always on the road, preaching the gospel — an important tactic when you’re based in a city that’s not (yet) a cocktail destination for industry people.
This is not all for self-promotion, though. Talking with Márcio, it becomes very clear that he sees the wider picture. « Brazilian society, it’s not about ‘living’, it’s about surviving. I’ve been lucky to see my bartenders thrive and so we launched a program to help more bartenders become better human beings and thrive in their career ». In that sense, he sees future bar openings — one should open before the year’s over — not only as business opportunities but also as a way of helping individuals grow in what remains a very unequal society. And the responsibility doesn’t stop at his own bartenders — it extends to the whole scene. So Márcio is very happy to see how much it has grown over the last couple of years. « Hospitality has changed so much. You had a couple of bars in Sao Paulo, a couple of bars in Rio, a couple in Coritiba, but now it’s everywhere. And they look at us as an inspiration, which is amazing ». Another thing Márcio really feels strongly about is a sense of community with the rest of Latin America. « We don’t speak Spanish here, but we’re latinos and it’s amazing what’s happening right now. For the first time I feel like Latin American cocktail culture is united ». We’re sure whatever Márcio was meant to do in Singapore would have turned out great, but we get a feeling that by staying in Sao Paulo, he not only found a home — he also is making much more of a difference.