People Will Still Need a Drink
The stories we tell on BarNews tend to be very similar. Most people get into this industry either to pay their way through university or after leaving hospitality school. They find out they’re good at it. They become head bartenders, bar managers and then they open their bar. Of course, each story has unique things to tell us but the feeling of déjà vu is there. Not quite the case with Moscow-based Daniil Goldman: his path to cocktail entrepreneurship has been quite different.
Unsurprisingly, the concept he came up with when he opened Mitzva, his first cocktail bar, five years ago, is also quite unique: « It’s a Jewish bar — the only Jewish bar in the world, I think », Daniil tells us. Of course, there are many cocktail bars in Israel — what Daniil means is that Mitzva is entirely built on a Jewish concept. « Everything is based on the kabbalah, secret societies, magic... ». Food is Israeli in inspiration, and the drinks are also tied back to the concept. As for the bar itself, « We sought inspiration in the medieval ghetto of Prague, the stories of the Golem. It’s the most mysterious side of Jewish culture ».
This stunning bar was not an instant hit — it’s a tough concept to sell and it was also Daniil’s first brush with cocktails. Loads of trial and error, then, but thankfully he already knew a thing or two about ownership, as Mitza was Daniil’s fourth business. The story of the first one is quite something. « The rector of the university was a friend of my business partner and it was easy to get the contract », Daniil recalls. It went well for a year, but the third partner went behind their back and arranged an even better agreement for himself with the rector, kicking them out. « This is Russia », Daniil quips today.
Before this bittersweet experience, Daniil had been working for Disney. He was in no hurry to get back to a corporation and launched another cafeteria with his partner. « It was a total failure. » Then came a restaurant, which went better — it lasted four years. « It wasn’t a failure, it wasn’t a success. We didn’t make money but it was a great school: how to operate, how to manage, how to deal with the authorities, how to hire, how to fire — the flesh and blood of the business ». When it was time to call it a day, Daniil decided to turn his attention towards a rising trend: cocktails. That’s when he opened Mitzva.
« When I started, I only knew one bartender. It took me a long time to figure out who was who in the industry », he now says. In part, that’s why it took Mitzva a couple of years to really take off. « It’s incredible to look back and think we’re one of the old bars now. Of course, we’re not the pioneers of the Moscow bar scene — we just started at the right time — but so many bars have come and gone and we’re still here ».
One of the reasons why Daniil went into the cocktail business in the first place might be that it is one of the most entertaining / spectacular niches of the hospitality industry — much more than, say, cafeterias. « I always knew I would entertain people. Booze just happens to be the way I entertain them », he says. Aptly, he says of The Bix, the place he opened with a musician friend two years ago, that « the heart of this bar is not the bar, it’s the stage ». Dreamed up in a drunken haze in New Orleans, The Bix has become a fixture of the Moscow jazz scene — and the perfect place to enjoy all the American classics.
Of course, the concept dictated that The Bix’ drinks would be simple classics. But Daniil, whose team at Mitzva has dabbled in the esoteric not just conceptually but also on the cocktail side — with a fully equipped lab — is convinced that simplicity is now the way to go. « There was a trend and everybody wanted a lab, but I think no one is actually interested in super complicated tastes. People want easy cocktails ». And bang in the middle of a pandemic, with only uncertainties on the horizon, if one thing is clear is that the focus should be on the guest’s experience, not on te tools.
Speaking of which… After three months of enforced closure, Moscow is slowly reopening. Daniil says that although a lot of people are understandably afraid of going out, business is good. Russia is voting next week, though, and there’s a feeling that the lifting of restrictions is an electoral move from the government. « We’re afraid they will order us to close and quarantine again after the election. » Thankfully, Daniil has a good relationship with his landlords, cocktails to go have been popular, and groups such as Pernod Ricard have also paid for bars and restaurant to cook meals for doctors and volunteers. If Covid-19 raises its ugly head once more, this should help. Still, questions marks are huge. « Our main focus is to stay alive », Daniil concludes. « I hope thing will be back to normal by New Year. People will still need a drink ».