Words by: Ashley Pini
A bartender to the stars, inspired by great European events and legends of the industry, Salvatore ‘The Maestro’ Calabrese sets a high bar in the world of hospitality.
Born in the small town of Maiori on the Amalfi Coast in 1955, Salvatore Calabrese's career began at the tender age of 11 when his father found him a job at a local hotel bar, The Hotel Regina Palace, "to keep me off the streets during the long summer school break," he explained.
"My job was to clean up and run errands for the head barman, Signor Raffaello, who soon became my mentor. He was the Humphrey Bogart of bartending; dressed in his impeccable cream jacket, he spoke several languages and was Mr hospitality, a great grounding experience at such a young age and he has been my inspiration ever since."
From there, Salvatore progressed to working in the restaurant at Hotel Panorama, Maiori, where he rose through the ranks to become the youngest ever maître d' on the Amalfi Coast. "Sadly, I lost my father not long after he found me my first job and I wish he could see what a wonderful opportunity he gave me and where it led me. I will be forever grateful."
Following a move to London shortly after meeting his wife Sue, Salvatore explained that his "love for the bar industry really took off when I landed my first job in London at The Dukes Hotel in 1982. It was here that I really began to feel that my future lay behind the bar."
It was here also, that he soon made his name selling Liquid History and developed his very unique way of serving the perfect martini cocktail.
"To this day, Dukes Hotel still has the reputation for selling the best martini in the world; super dry and super cool, known as the Direct Martini or Naked Martini, created following my technique."
Salvatore explains that the year of the inspiration behind his Cherry Heering cocktail, 1861, is of great importance to him due to the declaration of the unification of Italy being announced that very year. He explains, "Giuseppe Garibaldi was an iconic Italian hero who grew to symbolise the unification. He always wore an orangey red kerchief around his neck and so he and his kerchief are the inspiration for my cocktail".
His greatest memory of the liqueur came I the early 90s, "It was one of the first times that I created a twist of a classic cocktail. A lovely lady asked me for something with Cherry Heering in and the first thing that came to my mind was the classic Blood and Sand. I wanted to make something special for her so I created Blood Love with Gin, made from Cherry Heering, blood orange juice, egg white, caramel syrup and a touch of sichuan pepper. Needless to say, she loved it and asked for it every time she came in to my bar."
It is Salvatore's belief that "the bar is one of the greatest theatres that there is. Being center stage of that theatre and creating a bar with a soul is what makes me tick."
"A great bar should be one where the client wants to return again and again, not just for the superb cocktails but the whole experience where they find a warm welcome and a bartender who cares about his craft," he continues. It is for these very reasons that hospitality comes at the top of his list when speaking to aspiring young bartenders.
For Salvatore, the industry doesn't come without its unique issues. He explains "the main issue is young bartenders failing to appreciate the importance of being a great host. Often, they place too much emphasis on their skills as a mixologist and can sometimes forget to work on their rapport with customers, which is arguably the most important element of our jobs. The customer should always come top of your list and this is a rule I try to live by."
Garnish: Orange zest twist & cherry
Method: Pour ingredients into ice-filled glass and stir.
20 ml Cherry Heering
30 ml Campari
50 ml Orange juice