When I first thought about making changes at the hotel bar, everything seemed simple. However, as the stages unfolded there were some challenges that we had to deal with.
An idea born in travel
The idea was born when I traveled for my 25th birthday. I decided to go to Warsaw and get lost in the capital for the weekend to get new inspiration. As the end of August came, the weather was nice and there were plenty of places to discover. I planned the places that I wanted to see in advance. Together with some industry friends, we have long discussed the newly opened vodka museum in the old Polmos factory. After doing a little research on the web, I learned that the capital has two places where we can learn its history.
The Vodka Museum and “The Roots” Cocktail Bar
Standing at Plac Teatralny (Theatre Square), looking for the museum entrance, I did not expect that this visit would lead to a change of the Grand Ascot Hotel bar. Despite the amazing collection of bartending equipment and unknown labels from the old days, the tasting that culminated the visit to the museum turned out to be crucial. It was then that I learned about the movement of the revival of the spirit industry in Poland. I tasted vodkas that are not available in-stores, and that delight even the biggest opponents with their taste. A few steps away was the cocktail bar that a friend recommended to me. He always said: “If you are in Warsaw you must go there.” Most are delighted with the cocktails, but for me the host was the main inspiration. Looking at the smooth and error-free work of a person with great knowledge, I decided that our hotel bar in the center of Krakow needs such a change. Following the example of Warsaw’s “The Roots”, it must orientate itself to appear distinctly on the crowded map of Krakow gastronomy.
Discovering more and more new, limited editions of noble drinks, I decided that I would like to have my own unique and sophisticated collection. It was the day that my idea started to come to life.
In search of identity
The next day, intrigued by the slogan of the “revival” of the Polish alcohol industry, I decided to go to the Polish Vodka Museum which is located in the old Polmos factory. The visit was guided and I can’t imagine visiting this museum without it. The knowledge that was shared with us not only broadened our horizons but also forced us to think deeper. Among such a large number of labels, you need to find a collection that will satisfy tourists coming to Krakow from all over the world. I felt a sense of obligation to select Polish vodkas whose bottles our guests would bring back home after their visit to our bar.
Upon returning, I began to boast the idea among my friends, not yet knowing how much work and talks with the management would follow to agree with my suggestions. I knew that the seed of an idea was not enough, so I started to build a base outline of alcohols that later served to create the main card.
We didn’t build the bar from scratch. We had to rearrange it, which turned out to be a much more difficult task over time. It was not about technical matters, but about the preferences of hotel guests, which initially limited us.
To attract a hotel guest
People of many different nationalities come across our bar at Szujskiego 4, but it is the English and Scandinavians that visit the bartender most often. As for the British, it all depends on the time of day. I like their habit of appreciating their time with light, black tea with milk before visiting Krakow, and later coming back to relax by a lager or gin. The ladies often reach for classic cocktails, and the men try Polish vodkas. Scandinavians love gin and tonic, good wine and high-quality alcohol. These observations mean that we could not close ourselves off to guests and create a classic wine bar. I realized that there must be a balance in creating the drinks card. You cannot let people with certain expectations leave the bar disappointed. I understood that in a premium hotel bar everything must have the right quality.
Open up to the locals
What causes locals to pass by hotel bars and restaurants? Is it the fear of costs? A lack of knowledge about the existence of such places or the belief that they are closed for tourists? Yet, these beliefs are false and I think that many factors influence why people are afraid to try them.
The quality of premium hotel bars is high, but the prices are fair if we look at the whole picture. This situation prompts these bars to choose a path that will allow them to orient themselves in some way.
As a sommelier, I wanted the Wine & Spirits Bar by Grand Ascot to be a place that stands out on the gastronomic map of Krakow. A place that was lacking in this city. A unique bar, amongst a thousand other places that offer products available in local stores.
We do not expect all drinks to be liked by our guests, but we hope to create discussion around them. Hence, the decision to create a seasonal wine card that reflects the emotions that accompany us at the given time, vodkas from small producers and controversial gins. In addition, we support local producers by promoting their products to help regain the lost nature of gastronomic Krakow, where regionalism is sought with a magnifying glass in hand.
Sommelier, Wine & Spirits Bar by Grand Ascot