Meet Josip Grabovac, Bar Manager & Mixologist
“Great drinks require great ingredients.”
What drew you to hospitality and in particular, to mixology?
At first it was the flexibility with my university schedule and a way to make some money. Then I kind of fell in love with the industry. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed positive interactions with people and the excitement of meeting celebrities “face to face”. I started by bussing tables and pouring regular drinks and understood there were opportunities to move up so I put my head down and pushed.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Mostar, finished high school in Široki Brijeg and afterwards moved to Croatia as a 19-year old.
Were you trained in bartending or mixology?
I attended a German Bartender School course to build my essentials by spirits knowledge and a mixology course in Serbia. The German Course is an intensive spirits training course—12 hours per day for 5 days tasting through almost 200 spirits and learning the history and what they are made of, where they are from, and how they are distilled. This is the kind of knowledge every bartender should have. It’s not a prerequisite for starting—and you can read all you want—but tasting things side by side with experts is a whole other thing. If you taste 10 cognacs side by side, it changes your perspective on things and at the end you can better understand your customer.
You mentioned your everyday routine is often intertwined with dealing with celebrities and A-list customers, what you suggest them, what are their preferences?
Maybe is the laid back atmosphere, the summery scents and the good vibes that spread all over the place because from my experience all of the celebrities I met are really down to earth, positive and very open for a chat, of course you need to know when it’s time to leave and let them enjoy their little piece of paradise. Some cocktails I specially made and can remember right away are the Sex By The Beach for Alexander Emelianenko, the SolMojito for Solange Knowles, Beyonce’s sister, the 007 ‘les bains’ for Olga Kurylenko. The most popular are sweet, creamy cocktails made with freshly squeezed juice and a lot of freshly cut fruits added on it, I don’t spare on that because i believe in genuine ingredients as a basis for a success.
Really appealing and mouthwatering…what is a SolMojito?
I asked Solange which was her favorite fruit and she said strawberries, so let it be strawberries! It is a basic Mojito with strawberry puree added and a secret ingredient, at the end I cannot share all my “Aces in the hole” (smiles).
How do you develop your recipes?
It varies completely from cocktail to cocktail, from guest to guest and also from the inspiration I have at the moment. In my bar, Bonj les bains, we shop the local farmer’s market and buy as much locally organically grown produce and herbs as we can. Great drinks require great ingredients. Basically I work from the ground up, I start looking at seasonal flavors and then start with a spirit. Taste, smell, and think of what it tastes like and then I match it with the flavors from my environment which add the finishing touch, accent the drink or complement it. Then comes the style, I play safe and turn always around some statement drinks like a Manhattan or Martini, sours or sodas, and then maybe I add citrus and lengthener. Ultimately what is most important is to understand balance and consistence from the bottom to the top.
What are the trendiest cocktails at Bonj?
I kill with Pinacolada, Summer Kiss, Mojito, Caipiroska flavored, Daiquiri flavored. Purees of banana, mango and strawberries are very well appreciated.
Last question, where do you see yourself in 5 years?
For five years I see myself maybe having my own school for bartenders (smiles) so I can share with the future bartenders and mixologists generation my acquired knowledge transfering them the essentials of taste, decoration and presentation of cocktails.