"I never really wanted to go into hospitality," says Franz Königsberger, the Frankfurt-based bartender who is representing Germany and Austria at the Patrón Perfectionists global final in May. "One of my brothers was an apprentice chef, so when I was 16 or 17 and going to school in the morning, I used to see him at the breakfast table, super-tired, looking like shit."
After school in Munich he duly worked in homecare for a year, before taking a job as a dishwasher at the Olympic Stadium, where the friendly atmosphere helped allay his hospitality fears. A hotel apprenticeship followed, rotating through the different departments for three years, then a year in a Bavarian restaurant, before he joined the Juliet Rose bar in the Munich Hilton to learn more about cocktails and bartending.
Oliver von Carnap, one of Munich's best-regarded bartenders, created the concept and proved an invaluable mentor. "I knew nothing: just a little bit that I'd read in books or that I taught myself, but basically I knew nothing," Königsberger says. "He gave the whole team a crash course with three weeks of the basics of spirits, basics of drinks, techniques and everything. I was just soaking it up."
Creativity was a big part of his training, too. "Every two weeks he wanted to have at least one signature drink from each of us, and he'd ask, 'Ok, why are you doing this? Why are you using this ingredient? What's the story behind it?'" Königsberger recalls. "Then he'd taste the drink and immediately tell you what to change or what to think about next time. Every time my mind was blown."
It was then, back in 2018, that Königsberger first realised what high level bartending was. "I noticed there's this next level of bartenders and this next level of drinks or knowledge that exists," he says. "Since then, I've been trying to get there." Both in Munich and, more recently, at Frankfurt's intimate little Tiny Cup venue, he has been working to perfect his skills.
The Perfectionist Collector
A self-described "sneakerhead", Königsberger's collection of trainers includes over 160 pairs and his flat is festooned with shoeboxes. He brings that completist, perfectionist approach to his day job too.
"The real fascination about the bar, about bartending, is that it's easy to create something that is truly unique," he says. "It's time and experience that create perfection. You have these memories of drinks and guests, you have these ideas in your head, and there's a point when everything comes together at last."
Königsberger is not always a perfectionist in life but, when it comes to work, the devil is in the detail. "I love my job. I love working there," he says. "I'm always trying to be the most clean and tidy: there's nothing worse for me than a workplace that isn't completely organised, where stuff you don't need is laying around. I hate that."
But he does not feel perfectionism is an essential attribute for every bartender. "If every bartender had to be a perfectionist, it wouldn't be as much fun as it is," he says. "If you strive for being one of the best, you have to be a perfectionist, but if you're going to a local pub and just want to have a beer and a bourbon and enjoy yourself and the guy standing there is 100% perfectionist that would ruin things."
Despite Königsberger's initial feelings about hospitality, the lesson he takes from his brother's chef career now is less about the struggles of hard work and more about the joy of good food. "I'm the kind of guy who loves to go out and enjoy a good meal: it always has to be on point," he says. "The place itself doesn't have to be super-fancy, but if the whole package makes sense, everything works out."
Franz Königsberger's Winning Cocktail: T-G-T
T-G-T stands for tequila, grapes and time, and it refers to a period Königsberger spent working in a Germany winery during lockdown. "The bar I used to work at in Munich was a very high fashion, high standard place, and used to sell upper-class drinks for €15 or €16," he recalls. "The only thing we were allowed to do in May or June was drinks to go, takeaway. And the concept of our bar and the drinks it sold was not going to suit a plastic cup and takeaway, so I just felt useless."
Through friends, he got a job in the Rheinhessen, tending mainly Riesling vines and grapes. It was hard work, but emotionally and spiritually rewarding. "It was eight to 10 hours for my first two days, just buckling down on my knees doing these fiddly things to these plants," he says. "After one or two weeks I was used to it. It was just like your mind was cleansing. You didn't think about the city, or work, it was just enjoying nature and learning something new."
The role was supposed to be short term, but Königsberger ultimately spent almost a full wine year cycle in the Rheinhessen. "I started when you prepare the grapes and the fields for the harvest, harvested them, and then there was all the production going on," he says. "Then, at the end of March, we bottled the wines from those grapes. It was a full circle and that was really nice."
Mixed with the throwing technique to maximise aeration, the T-G-T takes highlights from the floral notes of German Riesling, but also includes a prosecco syrup. "Bars are trying to have this zero waste approach," Königsberger says. "And every bar has a sparkling wine open that you use for drinks, and there's always a point when it's not good enough to use, so instead of throwing it away you can use it for syrups."
45ml Patrón Silver tequila
15ml Riesling dry white wine
20ml Martini prosecco syrup
4–8 dashes White wine vinegar
Flower to garnish
To make the prosecco syrup:
Boil ingredients together until the liquid loses about half its volume. Strain and cool.
To make the cocktail:
Place all ingredients except the garnish tin in a shaker with ice. Add a strainer and "throw" the drink between two shakers until it is fully aerated. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a flower.