Words by: Ian Cameron
Gianfranco Spada arrived in London in 2001 aged 21. In the ten years since, he has managed to work at some of the capital's most respected bars and restaurants (Cecconi's, the Lonsdale, Hawksmoor, Mahiki, Quo Vadis, Tini and Boujis), and worked the stick alongside some of the most respected bartenders and operators of our time (Nick Strangeway, Nick House, Charles Vexenat and Agostino Perrone). He is now heading the VIP bar at the new W London hotel in Leicester Square, a blinged-up, disco ball-filled tequila mecca called Wyld which is managed by Ignite Group. The boy from Sardinia done good.
"I've been working behind the bar since I was 12. I would help my aunty and uncle at their bar - my mother would take me after school and I would serve beers, sambuca, grappa, Americanos, whiskies and coffee until six or seven pm. The police knew but even they would come and drink too. It's what got my palate started. I remember my favourite drink - once I'd moved on from Coke - was bitter lemon. Then when I was 13 when my parents went away I got drunk for the first time. My father had this South American drink which claimed to have coca leaves in.
"I didn't realise I would end up as a bartender. After school I drove lorries for a while for my father, I did a diploma in business management and correspondence in foreign languages, then took a course in economics, but I think I showed up three times only.
"I was supposed to be moving to Amsterdam with my best friend. I went to meet him in London and after a couple of days we decided this was where it was happening. I find even the big cities - Paris, Milan, Rome - haven't 'arrived' yet in terms of cocktail culture. Italy has been a disappointment as the job is not seen as a profession but in the UK we have the support of brands and the press.
"I'm not a cocktail geek. I couldn't stay with my head in a book. I think bars need three types of bartender: the 'locomotive' who can churn out three, four drinks a minute; the 'geek' who takes longer but makes amazing drinks; and the 'clown' who doesn't make the best drinks and isn't always the fastest but makes sure the people waiting for drinks have fun. I've never found someone who combines all of that - I guess I'm more the clown.
"I talk too much but behind the bar that can be a weapon. You can be swamped but it's about having a connection with everyone who comes to the bar. You can learn how to make drinks you can never learn those people skills, you've either got it or you haven't."