Name: Emilio Di Salvo
Job title: Bar Manager
How long have you worked at Satan’s Whiskers: 2 years and 3 months
Favourite drink: Morning Glory Fizz
Key skills: One of my strongest attributes is my approach to service. I am extremely conscious of my demeanour and my approach to guests, and I am very considered with the vocabulary I choose to use. I like things to be as easily understood as possible. I genuinely enjoy the social aspect of what we do, and I think it shows. I believe it helps put people at ease when they know you are having a good time also.
What got you into cocktail bars?
There was a group of bars in Bristol that I thought were the coolest thing in the world. I just remember wanting to be part of that, someone who worked in those speakeasy bars. I didn’t think I was cool enough so applied for a job elsewhere. 3 days after leaving my restaurant bar job I was offered a job at one of them and I became one of ‘those guys’. Quite funny really.
How many years have you worked in the industry?
In hospitality 15 years, 10 years in Cocktail bars
What makes a great cocktail bar?
There are so many variables, and I think it is about finding balance within those variables. Lighting, ambience, smell, temperature, how comfortable it is to sit in. What do you feel within the first 10 seconds of sitting down? Music is a huge part of it. Not too loud, not too quiet. Does it fit with the bar? Is the playlist well-constructed? Are the drinks good? Do the flavours work together? Are the drinks cold enough? Is there enough dilution and has it been made well? Are the staff friendly and fun? Are they attentive? Can they read the situation and know when not to be overbearing? Is the menu easy to understand? Could you take someone there who might know nothing about mixed drinks? Would they enjoy it?
If all these things have been considered and are executed properly then I think you could have a great bar. It depends on what you are looking for. Personally, I want to go to a bar to enjoy the company of the people in my party, whether that is somewhere I can dress up and feel good, or somewhere more laid back. Will everyone be comfortable is the question? Is anyone being excluded somehow? If so, maybe think about what may make people feel uncomfortable.
What do you enjoy most about the industry?
I like making drinks, and serving people, I love trying to explain things in the simplest way. I think if you can explain something in a way that everyone can understand then that shows real understanding of a subject. I don’t want anyone I am serving to feel like I know more than them, I want them to understand what they are ordering. I want to serve people from a position of empathy. I want to understand how they are feeling to better serve them.
With the actual making of the cocktails, it is a physical and mental test. Problem solving and multi-tasking whilst maintaining an entertaining and relaxed manor. I find the attempt of mastering these aspects the best part. I guess in a word, progression.
What’s a signature drink of yours?
I don’t really have a signature drink, I’m not a huge fan of the term. Although my favourite drink was a version of the Espresso Martini I made at the Artesian. It used the same coffee bean from three different stages of the roasting process. Each in a different part of the drink. Although it isn’t the style of drink I make anymore, it was very tasty.
Favourite post-shift meal?
I am adept at making pasta sauce so often have some in the fridge. My classic tomato sugo with either spaghetti or rigatoni, and parmesan. Puts me straight to sleep and it’s very nostalgic and comforting.
What does being a Top 50 Cocktail Bar mean to you?
It does help to make the bar more of a destination. Particularly for tourists visiting the city. However, that can have a negative effect on those who live nearby, as a bar increases in popularity. We get a nod of recognition from the industry, people can find us if they look, but it hasn’t fundamentally changed the experience of the locals that have been with us since the beginning. As a predominantly neighbourhood bar, if you live in the neighbourhood and can’t get in, then something is wrong.
Ultimately what matters to me is the opinion of those who visit the bar, those who don’t work in the industry, and how they feel once they leave. Having customers that return again and again is usually the best sign that you’re doing the right things.
What is the best cocktail bar you’ve ever visited?
Satan’s Whiskers. I know I know, cliché. I’m not just saying this though. As I mentioned before it’s subjective. I love classic drinks. I was obsessed with it before working there and I still am. The reason I wanted to work there was the drinks being made there were the drinks I wanted to drink on my day off. The drinks I was serving weren’t. It felt disingenuous. So, I asked for a job. What they have created there is dialled perfectly into the things I feel to be important, as mentioned above. On top of that though I love Hip Hop, so they hit the nail on the head for me personally too.
However, I am aware that is a bit cheeky so I will play ball. I very much enjoyed Dante in New York that was great, I loved being in the sun and drinking a Garibaldi, the staff were awesome. Attaboy of course, it’s just effortlessly cool. Finally, Dukes in London. There is something about that place that remains timeless, it represents what I imagined a hotel bar to be like before visiting one. No music, only chatter, everyone drinks a Martini. It’s like a little time capsule.
What do you enjoy most about working at Satan’s Whiskers?
Every day’s a school day. There is always a better way to make something and the only way to find out is to make it again and again. We have the set up to be able to do that and the platform for change and improvement is an open one.
This changes regularly but the spirit that excites me the most currently is Cognac. There is just so much flavour and complexity; soft fruit, tropical fruit, dried fruit, oak, leather, tabacco, violet, lilac, rose, it really has everything, and you feel like a king drinking it. I’m hoping to learn more about Armagnac next. The underrated brother.
What does the future hold for Satan’s Whiskers?
We are going to keep moving forward. As I say there is always a better way. The team we have currently is exceptional. The best I’ve worked with and I’m looking forward to growing Satan’s with them. Maybe one day we can go through a whole shift without even needing to talk because everyone knows exactly what’s going on? Like clockwork.
Other than that, you will have to see.