Words by: Ian Cameron
Oskar Klimaszewski is bartender, bar manager, bar-back and cleaner at Shoreditch hole-in-the-wall bar Casita. Born in Poland, he was brought up in Kuwait and Australia, arriving in the UK in 2005 and joining Casita in 2008, thinking it would just be a short stint - five years later he can't see himself leaving.
A small bar is about the people, the regulars, and it becomes like a family. Drinkers can't help mingling with each other. I've seen two separate dates get chatting and end up going on somewhere together. People treat it as a second living room. They might come here themselves and by the end of the night they have made friends. It's really that that has kept me here - you make people happy, introduce them to new people and have a laugh.
I've worked in bigger bars but I don't miss being part of a bigger team. We have two people working on Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays. The rest of the time it's just me versus 40 people. And even when there are two of us on it can be a challenge. I come in at 4pm, 1pm on a Friday, do the set-up, the break-down, the cleaning. It teaches you self-reliance - I can't imagine having a bar-back do all that stuff for me. We used to have a hammock. It went across the bar and if you had a big night you could even sleep here to be ready for the next shift, I kid you not.
Running this place can be quite a communal effort . It gets so busy customers have to pitch in and help me out. There have been nights when I've had to turn off the music and asked everyone to bring me an empty glass. And when we're really busy and I've run out of limes, I've had to ask someone to take £20 and buy me as many as possible from wherever they can - in return for a free drink of course.
We have a capacity of 38, and we never, EVER go above that (or have had a Mariachi band in here at the same time!), honest! Because of how busy we get I constantly have to be aware of every aspect of the bar. I make sure I greet everybody, that way they don't mind waiting a while for a drink even when they can see how busy we are. When it gets really busy you have to stay in control and just stop people wandering outside with drinks.
We only have a small glass washer, there's no ice well, or speed rail, so we just zoom around the whole time - we call it 'matrix bartending'. The same goes for our back-bar, we don't have a huge amount of space so it's about quality - everything we carry needs to be of good repute. We serve probably 60 per cent cocktails, the rest is beer and spirit mixers. We're famous for our verdita. I had a guy come in and say he and his friends had come especially for it - he asked me how many shot glasses I had: turned out there were 17 of them! They all squeezed in, drank their shots and squeezed out again. Just don't have it if you're allergic to coriander - one woman was...
There's been nothing done to this place in seven years. It's the same counter, same brickwork, same light fittings. But it has evolved organically, people like to leave little things here, so our shelves are full of souvenirs and curios. There's everything from cans of Spam, to a book called How to Satisfy a Woman, which seems more popular with women rather than men. I particularly like our collection of miniatures.
I've made friends with a lot of the regulars. When you move to London you don't have a huge number of connections, but now I'll go out with a few of them together, maybe to Brighton for the day. I've even had relationships with some, though I tell them when the relationship ends I'm not quitting my job: Casita is my home now. I'm part of the furniture.