Laura Volkaite

  • Laura Volkaite image 13282
  • Laura Volkaite image 13283

Words by: Jane Ryan

From scraping used chewing gum off the floor in nightclubs to representing her country in a global cocktail competition, Laura's path to bartending epitomises the tenacious spirit of this industry's hardest workers. Along the way she has gained some serious credentials, amassed spirit and drink knowledge and, above all, has perfected what is possibly the most alluring shaking technique seen behind a bar.

Lithuania's cocktail culture is getting better little by little. Even though the majority of people have no idea what an Old Fashioned is, there is a growing number who do. Increasingly people know what they want to order, what they are drinking and what bartending is and it's great to see bars that try to educate their customers on cocktails and spirits. We have a number of really talented bartenders, mixologists and spirit companies who are investing in, and trying to bring, Lithuania's cocktail culture up a notch.

The best and most professional bars are in the three biggest cities of Lithuania; Vilnius, the capital; Kaunas, my hometown; and Klaipeda, the port city. There is a not a lot of them, but the good ones are really good.

I started working in a night club at 18. Firstly removing chewing gum from the club carpet, then cleaning furniture until I was offered the bar back position. After my first shift bar backing, seeing how much fun the job appeared, I wanted to be a bartender. They just looked so cool to me back then and, because it seemed the most fun, I was always asking the bartenders to let me shake the cocktails.

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It took eight months of finding out as much about the bar and cocktails as I could that I was offered a bartending position. I remember being extremely nervous and excited at the same time. I changed clubs once and then finally found a position at a bar called Rysiu Kiemelis 837 for the entire summer. It's a seasonal summer bar, and a very chilled place with a lovely bohemian, laid back feel to it.

Bar 210 was one of the most craziest, amazing times of my life. I initially applied thinking I wouldn't be good enough, but was fortunate to stay there till it closed. It was something out of Coyote Ugly, super crazy, bartenders with no shirts, water everywhere, loud music and so on. From being there my bartending style is all about making sure people are having a good time and I smile a lot. But when I make a cocktail I want it to be perfect, even if everyone is partying hard around me. The little intricacies matter, from the garnish to the colour, taste and last spritz of the oils from the peels.

The majority of the customers still order things like bourbon and coke, Cuba Libres, Long Island Iced Teas, Vodka and Red Bull. But I love it when people ask for something like a Negroni, it's more interesting to make than a fizzy drink with one type of alcohol. I've noticed that people are really into Tequila at the moment too.

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I think there is a cocktail and spirit revolution bubbling beneath the surface in our country, just waiting to explode. There's a hunger for change and to experience a new palate on a night out. I love how every new customer is a mini challenge. To make a cocktail that will be delicious for them, that will reflect their mood and emotion at exactly the time they come in to your bar. I love the stories that people tell you and all the wonderful people that you can meet. I just feel alive behind the bar. One of my favourite moments is when you make a cocktail, put it on a napkin and slide it over to your customer whilst looking them straight in the eyes. It's like you're giving them a small piece of your soul.

My biggest inspiration has been the first bartenders that I saw working. I remember just staring at how their hands moved behind the bar, how they picked up the bottles and shook the cocktails and how much fun they had whilst doing it. On a global level I find Julie Reiner a great role model as a female bartender who also started small but has made such a name for herself and has achieved so much. I have to mention Monica Berg as well, she's a bartender I respect and would one day like to meet. I have an upmost respect for Alex Kratena and Simone Caporale from Artesian, mostly how they host customers and the high level of service that they provide every time. They make you feel special.

At the moment I'm drinking Rum Negronis or Rum Sours. Of course, a shot of tequila always suits me just fine as well, it's a spirit I adore. Winning first place of the Tahona Society Olmeca competition in Lithuania and travelling to Mexico for the final made me concentrate more intensely on my career. The inspirational and warm people that I met there will always be in my heart and never forgotten.

I look at bartending quite seriously, it's something that I both love to do and want to do. Even though I am studying New Media Arts in university I am hoping to make a career in hospitality because I feel passionate about it and I can definitely see myself in this industry in the future. I hope that all it takes to make this happen is some hard work, staying true to myself and never giving up on the things I love.

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