Words by Sammy Hemmings and Igor Zernov
Photography by Havana Club
"Five years ago nobody even thought about promoting bar events in Saint-Petersburg, about bringing alcohol budgets into the city and not even about launching cocktail competitions," says Igor Zernov, co-owner of Saint-Petersburg's El Copitas Bar.
Since opening in 2015, El Copitas has become an internationally acclaimed cocktail bar, ranking 27th place in the World's 50 Best Bars 2020, the only bar in Russia to feature in the list.
But Igor and his partners, Nikolay Kiselev and Artem Peruk, faced considerable challenges in opening. "We promised each other to open our doors on the 1st January 2015. But three months before our country and the best imported products were banned by US and EU. Artem got divorced, Nikolay got fired and my car was stolen," Igor says.
"The most unbelievable challenge of our lives," Igor adds. "It was unbearable but we made it. There was an economic crisis at its peak, we had no idea what to do, no stuff and absolutely no money. Half of the stores were closed because of the popping prices and currency rate. We even had to borrow the bar stools because we could not even buy them."
Despite the challenges that come with running a business, Igor's dedication to the bar industry shines through. "We are the only crew that has not stopped working during the absolute lockdown of the country," he says. "We have not fired anyone and we have not cut any salaries. We were helping to cover the monthly mortgage payments of our crew. And we're helping some of the bar teams around Russia during this drastic period."
The team continues to overcome obstacles, including the difficulties in sourcing ingredients. "One of the biggest challenges was the choice of raw ingredients and fresh products," Igor explains. "Saint-Petersburg is the most northern city in the world with the population above 1 million people. You can't get the robust avocado here. So we ended up launching a new cocktail menu every other week. For better flavors, logistics and cost. And it worked."
Igor is committed to helping others progress and develop, and has implemented online training courses for his staff. "Our ideology is to take unexperienced guys around the country. Lead and mentor them. Make them the best professionals they possibly could be. Ignite an idea inside them that they can be anyone they want and support them in their further path," he says.