[:it]Agostino Galli: the humility (of the self-taught) as a bartender[:]



Starting from scratch, he learned everything by himself, when people were still looking for work in clubs through a round of text messages. Today he is the face of the Milanese cocktail bar in the Porta Romana area LACERBA QUISIBEVE, where this year he marks the tenth anniversary of his first entry.


Hi Agostino, when did you take your first step into the world of work? And in mixing?

When I was young I attended the University of International Relations in Milan, in Cattolica. I worked in a communications agency during the day and in the evening in many different places such as glasswashers and in the dining room. When after 6-7 months I noticed that I was earning more in bars three days a week than in the agency, I left to dedicate myself entirely to this sector. It was 2002-03. Over time, working in cocktail bars and nightclubs in the evening, I became passionate about mixing and therefore decided to take a course to become a barman at 3F, thanks to the support of the cocktail bar I was working in at the time, where I had learned the basics of mixing. I therefore decided to take a course at AIBES, to improve myself further, in particular on the classics. In the meantime I finished university and went to work in Switzerland, Munich and other places abroad. I have always proposed myself in clubs - daytime, nighttime bars, discos, casinos, restaurants, hotels, Italian restaurants abroad - where I ended up honing the basics of hospitality.


What were your most significant experiences before LACERBA?

All the experiences have left me with something and all my employers who thought more about making money than anything else have always taught me that "it doesn't matter what they ask of you, but that the customer is happy" and so my approach, also current, it has always been this. After numerous experiences abroad I returned to Milan, where I worked at Armani Privè Nobu, an elite environment in which I didn't have much opportunity to experiment, given the right importance given to management costs. In those years, it was 2009, I met the guys who would open Jerry Thomas, Antonio Parlapiano, Roberto Artusio, Leonardo Leuci and finally Alessandro Procoli. They had started holding courses in Milan, through Food and Foodies and hosting international bartenders such as Stanislav Vadrna, Alex Kratena of Artesian, Marian Beke, Erik Lorintz or Beachbum Berry. Before then, at least for me, it was difficult to find books and material for professionals in the sector and they helped me a lot, even in getting me interested in a mix of research, different from what I had done up to that point.


How and when did you arrive at LACERBA?

I was a customer of LACERBA and a friend of mine, the first winner of the Campari Competition Chiara Beretta, told me that they were looking for a bartender because Federica Negri was leaving to follow her first project on the Naviglio Grande here in Milan. QUISIBEVE at LACERBA was one of the few bars together with Rita, Nottingham Forest and Julep frequented by many bartenders. Umberto Consiglio worked there and, when I joined at the end of 2011, I found myself side by side with Leonardo Todisco, who left in 2016 to move to Rita, where he is the current bar manager. From that moment on I became a bar manager. Over the years I have been helped by many people, in particular by Giacomo Ellena who now works with the Bulgari group in London at Nolita and Davide Castelli, who came to us very young and will soon start as manager of a bar in the Isola area.



What was LACERBA before and when was it opened? How has it evolved over the years?

Originally there was a vegan café here, L'Acerba, run by elderly German gentlemen, who offered, among other things, a raw vegan brunch. The place didn't catch on, because the Milanese public wasn't ready yet and so they decided to sell it. When the sister of one of the current partners (architect) saw the place together with the potential buyer, they decided to take it. In the bibliography of his degree thesis there was a Florentine magazine dating back to the times of futurism called LACERBA and therefore they decided to give this name focusing on a futurist cuisine. It was '99 and the place - a futuristic restaurant and pizzeria - had a certain resonance in the United States, where it was the protagonist in an interview in the Washington Post and in a conference on the topic in New York. In Italy the futurist proposal did not catch on and the place therefore became a fish restaurant, with the conversion of the pizzeria space into the current cocktail bar in 2004 called QUISIBEVE together with Oscar Quagliarini, initially open three days a week with, among things, theatrical improvisation shows. In 2009 there was a major renovation and a further one at the end of 2018, with the renovation of the bar counter and the soundproofing of the place. At the beginning of last year we inaugurated the new counter I inaugurated - before that there was the one modified over the years with a thousand pizzeria tricks - which we used, due to Covid-19, for only a month and a half. The bar has always changed its target/approach during the week, the days at the beginning of the week were quieter and more relaxed, to arrive at a chaotic and highly demanding weekend, the music changed based on the dynamics, from blues and jazz, when the moment it became cheerful and light-hearted ska/punk/reggae, up to very strong electronics and heavy metal. We have always been very dynamic.


What does LACERBA represent for you and what do you represent for LACERBA?

For me, LACERBA has become an integral part of who I am and is a bit like my home. During the lockdown I suffered more from not being able to go to the club than from anything else. A historic relationship has also been created with many customers: some think that I am the owner, given that they have seen me at the restaurant for 10 years. For LACERBA I am a point of reference, both for customers and members.



How has Covid-19 impacted and how will the venue evolve?

We have activated home delivery and takeaway of food and cocktails and are considering, in view of the recovery, adapting the restaurant offer to that of the bar, in order to standardize the proposal. We have always had good numbers - 130 seats for lunch and 70/80 for dinner at the restaurant and 1000 drinks on Friday evening alone - and we have never thought about changing. It goes without saying that the previous numbers, especially for health reasons, will no longer be possible, we have completely reorganized the bar room. Before we had a lot of seats - we calculated 3 shifts of around 75 seats per shift at the bar alone - today we have placed many sofas and armchairs and we don't have more than 32 seats, including the counter, the beating heart of QUISIBEVE. With more time available, we thought we'd focus on a simpler Italian cuisine, which incorporates traditional regional dishes. With takeaway and home delivery we have started to serve recipes such as micchetta with mondeghili or aubergine parmigiana, which we serve in a puttanesca variant.


Who is LACERBA's clientele?

When LACERBA opened there weren't many cocktail bars and so the few people who wanted to go there and were in the area came to us. Over time, our clientele has grown heterogeneously: students, couples of young people, adults and women being treated at the Mangiagalli clinic, who have come to us for our non-alcoholic offering which has been around for more than ten years - since 2017 we have also been using Memento, company for which I collaborated on the creation of the recipes - and for the changing table. We are a meeting point – people come to be together here – and this was seen when many customers stopped by in this strange moment, even just to say hello or to bring a word of encouragement.



What do you think of the prizes that are awarded in the camp and of the guests?

We have had many appointments over the years, but we have never chosen to ride this wave because we don't want to make our customers uncomfortable and because we don't really understand the meaning of these things. I don't want the people who come to me to come for the martini, but to chat. My job is to create marginality and affiliation, but many friendships have been born at my counter. By choice, we have never hosted external bartenders, to avoid embarrassing our customers, who remain our only priority. Just once, to understand how it could be, in 2018 we hosted 2 winners of an important Canadian award who made drinks with us for an evening, our drinks.


How is the drink list structured today?

At LACERBA QUISIBEVE we have always had a drink list in which we offered 5 drinks of the month. The best-selling one entered the menu, in which we had 55 cocktails. Every year we made 50 new ones and organized them by distillate. Some examples are the Panettone Sour with Milanese panettone rum, pedro ximenez, squeezed lemons and oranges, the Moncalieri with Franciacorta grappa, Select, sweet vermouth, absinthe, fernet and the Bitter Sweet Simphony with Jamaican rum, demerara rum, pumpkin rhubarb, creme de cassis, lime juice and raspberry syrup. We have never had the classics on the menu but we have always made them for those who asked us, which are more than half of our production, a large portion of the customers have always ordered Martinis, Daiquiris, Margaritas and Bloody Marys.


Why did you decide to focus on the Bloody Mary?

When I arrived at LACERBA, the research on Bloody Mary had already been started by Umberto Consiglio. Together with Leonardo Todisco we developed many versions, to which were added those that I created on my own, when he went to the Rita. Our peculiarity, since always, has been to prefer tomato puree to the more traditional tomato juice, to obtain a denser and less full-bodied result. In recent years, infinite variations have been created, including the Smockey Mary with peated whiskey instead of vodka, beechwood smoked salt and Tabasco, the McMary, which kids really like, with wild onion vodka and the Malavoglia with tequila with oregano and yellow tomato cream. My favorite is the Yellow SubMaria, with bell pepper-infused tequila and turmeric.



Are you also doing takeaway and home delivery of cocktails?

Yes, we are delivering around ten canned drinks, 5-6 of which are classics. We also have a section with 4 liter drinks: Vodka ginger sour, Hemingway Tea Cup, with gin, French Blue tea syrup, lemon, grapefruit, Brancamenta, McNamara, with peated whisky, blended scotch, lemon, ginger syrup and honey , and Bloody Mary L'Acerba, with tomato cream, green Tabasco – slightly less acidic than traditional – lime juice, salt, pepper, sugar and habanero-infused vodka, Basil'n'Honey with vodka, basil, syrup honey, lime and grapefruit.



What's your favorite cocktail?

The Gibson, a variant of the Martini Cocktail prepared with gin, dry vermouth and orange bitters, which I garnish with sweet and sour onions which I infuse with gin and peppercorns. I love it, together with the Bloody Mary, because I think it is the aperitif drink par excellence and also for its versatility. Everyone prepares/has them prepared according to their preferences.



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