Dré Masso has been involved with the London cocktail scene for several years, working and running bars at The Rock Garden in Covent Garden, Oliver Peyton’s Atlantic Bar & Grill, 10 Room in Piccadilly, Lab Bar (London Academy of Bartending), Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, Salvador & Amanda in Leicester Square, and Lonsdale House in Notting Hill. Over the course of his career, he has won numerous cocktail competitions and been awarded the UK bartender of the year thrice.
Since 2005, Dré has visited over 50 cities in 30 countries, training thousands of bartenders and sharing his passion for drinks and cocktail culture. Dré published his first book “Margarita Rocks” in 2005 featuring 70 bespoke recipes as well as factual information on the history of Tequila and its production methods. This led to the opening of his own tequila bar and restaurant in London’s East End, called Green & Red, which in its first year won the Evening Standard’s Bar of the Year award.
You were studying to be a photographer. How did you end up in a bar?
At the time that I studied photography, we used negatives and paper for printing. This, combined with all the equipment, was an expensive proposition and the bar work was my way of paying for it. I soon became passionate about every aspect of this industry.
Who all people taught you the most about tending bars, and what lessons did you learn from them?
I have learnt from so many individuals. I am still learning every day. Douglas Ankrah, the founder of the London Academy of Bartending, has been a great inspiration. He is amazing with the crowd and creating an atmosphere. Jamie Terell, who is now the ambassador of Hendrick’s gin for Asia and Australia has the ability to make everything taste good. Much of my cocktail-making style came from him. Henry Besant, who I worked with for several years, has exquisite style and taste and I think some of that has rubbed off on me. Eric Yu, director of The Breakfast Group and my current business partner, has really helped me with the business side of running bars.
What aspects of the bar industry fascinate you the most?
In recent years, I have been included in more and more aspects including design, music, marketing, food, etc. My first passion is still the cocktail, but I understand that every aspect plays an important part and that is why it all interests me. I like the challenge of making new ideas and concepts work, but customer care and hospitality are fundamentally the key factors in running a bar.
This industry is perceived by many as not a viable career choice but a means to generate income on the side. What are your thoughts on this? Do you think there is a global shift in attitude towards this?
Generally it is getting better, but in many situations, it is still a poorly paid job. We bar tenders are getting better recognition for what we do. There are more cocktails and drink-related books and publications now than ever.
What are the mistakes restaurateurs make while building a bar within a restaurant/lounge?
The biggest mistake normally relates to the actual design of the working bar area. Often this is left for the interior designer or architect to decide, who usually have no idea how a bar should work. Designers are happy to spend thousands of pounds on a beautiful chandelier but pay no attention to the ergonomics and functionality of the bar. In my opinion, these are the first things that should be thought about.
What are the cornerstones of a good bar?
These depend on the style of the bar but, generally speaking and in no particular order, would include an interesting concept and offering, good marketing and PR, well-trained staff, quality ingredients and products, a great ambience (music, lighting, smells, design) and the right crowd.
What does it take to be a great bartender?
Again so many things, but here are a few (in no particular order): passion, respect, knowledge, speed, character and personality. A great bartender will understand every element of the bar and be the upmost host.
How do you go about stocking the bar? Do you have any suggestions? Is it essential to have fifteen vodkas and ten rums?
This again depends on the style of the bar. Obviously, a tequila bar should have a decent tequila selection. If you are talking about a general premium style bar, then a good selection of about 5 to 20 of each spirit category works well. There has to be a good balance between commercial availability and more interesting and rare.