Marian Beke has been in bartending for 13 years, originally getting into the industry as a way of learning English better since settling down in London from Slovakia, but eventually becoming immersed in the craft.

He first made an impression in the bar scene as the bar manager of speakeasy Nightjar, which he helped attain accolades of 2nd Best Bar in the World by Drinks International, World’s Best Cocktail Menu by Tales of the Cocktail, and Best Basement Bar by Time Out all in 2013. In 2016, he opened his own bar called The Gibson, which earned itself a spot at number 6 for the World’s 50 Best Bars list in its first year.

The Gibson—it’s a bar which was inspired by the Gibson martini, which is the gin martini with the pickled onion. And we took the pickles and preserving as a thing for the cocktails, which, 2 years ago, there was no bar like this. You always want to be special and unique in London. So using pickles, brine, vinegar—we use it in almost every cocktail. So we use chutneys, relish, brines… so rather than strawberries you use strawberry ketchup, rather than mango, mango chutney.”

“When I say I’ve been bartending 10 to 15 years, [people] say wow,” he tells us, when we ask him about his history. “But bartending has changed a lot all over the world in the past 5 years [alone],” he continues. “10 to 15 years ago, even in London, to squeeze a fresh lime was already [impressive]. Fresh fruit was the trend. I think [now, with] the Internet, the international exchange, [there’s been] a massive exploration all over the world.” This exploratory approach to taste has certainly allowed for Beke to become known as the King of Garnish‘.

Marian Beke demonstrates some of his signature cocktails at Raging Bull Chophouse and Bar in Shangri-La at the Fort, who provided us with the photos.

He illustrates his creative process to us: “You give [someone] a strawberry . . . Just think of the flavor and think of 5 ingredients that would work with and extend this flavor.” The exercise, he explains, would yield entirely different results depending on the taster, “depends on your knowledge, depends on your palate”—where they’re been, how they work, where they’re from, and even their individual experiences. Beke advises to “close your eyes, forget what you grew up [knowing], forget what image you see on a box. Just taste it and give me the idea of the strawberry.”

People are looking for something they cannot recreate at home. Same as if you go home, you go to your computer, you watch 6 movies on Netflix, but you still go to the opera or a musical because that’s something that Netflix doesn’t give you . . . You remember the opera because emotions go through your body. It’s something to remember. A cocktail is similar.”

With numerous awards under his belt, Beke has become an educator in bartending, conducting seminars, trainings and masterclasses around the world. His one tip for aspiring bartenders in the younger generation that has grown up with social media, he says, is that “there are no shortcuts behind the bar.” Though the Internet allows you to easily watch a how-to video, he reminds us that the person in the video likely “worked 18, 20 hour shifts for years what you just see in a video today.”

Beke explains that visiting a bar isn’t just about a drink but the whole experience. “People are looking for something you cannot recreate at home.”

After all, he tells us that a bottle of gin in London goes for 15 pounds in the grocery and a cocktail in a high-end bar the same price. “People go to a bar for the experience, and I don’t mean a flashy experience . . . The bartender should make that experience.”

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