Today we inaugurate one new column dedicated to the presentation of Barladies and Bartenders. The goal is to be able to let the public know who they are and their work. We open the column with the presentation of a barlady, the owner of Funi 1898 in Montecatini Terme Francesca Gentile. Born in 1985 and graduated in International Political Sciences at the University of Pisa, he was able to use his previous work experience in reportage as a basis of inspiration for his cocktails in the Tuscan restaurant. We interviewed her to find out more about her past, present and future.
Where are you from and what did you study?
I am originally from Fondi (LT) and have Lazio origins. I moved to Tuscany, where I currently work, because my husband lives here, whom I met at the age of 2 because our parents were best friends. After graduation, not being gratified by the path, I decided to enter the International Academy of Photography.
How was your journey into the photographic world?
It wasn't easy. I am lucky enough to meet people who have helped me increase my knowledge. I had a great talent for naturalistic and social reportage, the areas that stimulated me the most and in which I worked most of the years. I then got married to my current husband Simone and had a little girl, Tayra, in 2012. A year later, in May 2013, during a trip to Honduras he contracted a rare virus and at that moment I decided to stop collaborating with newspapers and to stop.
How did you transition to the sector you work in today?
In 1982 my husband's family purchased the Montecatini funicular, now under consideration by the UNESCO Commission. It is located in a place nestled between Montecatini Terme and Montecatini Alto and was born before the town of Montecatini, in 1898. Next to it there was a warehouse, which in 1985 a man transformed into an American bar, which he had to abandon for bureaucratic reasons. My father-in-law Lido decided to take over that place again. After the work began in 2015, he was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Shortly before his death, the bar talk returned and he asked me for the same favor. My adventure therefore began on June 17, 2016 with a promise made to a person who believed in me so much. From there the Funi 1898, from the year of the birth of the funicular, became my life.
How was the beginning?
Difficult. Funi was already a cocktail bar with catering but, despite being an expert in the product category, I didn't know how to make a spritz. But I had a goal, to make that person proud of me, and I wanted to achieve it. From there I made the decision to hire a barman with a good background, to rely on, the son of art Tiziano Zanobini. One day he said to me: “Have you ever tried to make a drink?” So, he made me take a test, which I passed with flying colors. It was the entrance test for the Campari Bar Master, but I instead signed up for the basic Campari course in February 2017, in which I stood out as the best student. After an experience at Jerry Thomas in Rome, I began to have more self-confidence. On May 1, 2017, in the first competition I participated in, I came third, with Miss Foley, a revisitation of Hanky Panky. I took part in other competitions, always placing among the first places. The thing I liked most was using my nose and taste "blindly".
In what sense?
Every time I smelled a perfume, it took me back to travels. Travel was and is the constant in my drinks. Every time I create a drink I think about it in my gut and put something of myself, something I've seen. The bar, from 2017 onwards, has changed. I started dedicating myself to customers, who I wanted to transport to another place. I realized I knew how to do it. I was able to convey to people what I had inside. Our drink lists take customers to very distant places, where I traveled when I was reporting.
How important was your team in achieving these results?
I have a fabulous team, who have always helped me and who have never held back from anything. If Funi is Funi today it is thanks to everyone. My boys told me that they have never experienced the bar like here. This is the most beautiful thing. Today I can't see myself without Funi and without them.
How do you create your cocktails?
Some cocktails are inspired by customers, because they were created based on their stories. The Space Cowboy, for example, is inspired by a boy of Calabrian origins and contains a Calabrian amaro, vermouth, Campari and bergamot. Others, like the Beach 1898, winner of the Best signature cocktail at Tuscany Cocktail Week 2020, is inspired by a trip to Thailand and is made with vodka, mango chutney, mango syrup, pink grapefruit juice and ginger beer.
What is it like doing your job alongside being a mom?
It's difficult. There are times when you feel really guilty because you have a little girl growing up at home. Luckily I have a husband who is a fabulous man, who doesn't give me limits. It's difficult to make cocktails and be a mother in the meantime, but it gives me so much satisfaction. Like when my daughter, now 8, tells her classmates about my results.
What's the first cocktail you drank? And your favorite?
The first cocktail I drank was a Martini Cocktail with Martini Miller. My favorite, however, is the Hanky Panky.
Did you encounter any barriers/prejudices against you because you were a woman?
Partially yes. It's not easy to relate to the world of mixing, because it is made up predominantly of men. Often, outside my club, I am seen as a girl who has achieved success due to her aesthetic appearance. Sometimes I've been told that I'm not capable of doing anything. There is a lot of prejudice but it doesn't discourage me.
Are there any new things planned at Funi?
We always have a drawer full of new things... For now we are working on the new drink list in which, as in all the previous ones, everyone participates, including the chef and the waitress. Everyone must know everything and no one must be left out.