I got in touch recently with a prominent bar owner in Paris who in past meetings has never really been very warm or welcoming. But I thought I’d reach out again anyway. I’m off to the French capital for New Year’s Eve this year and so I asked if any of his venues (he and his partners have three in the French capital so far) would be open on that night as I thought any of them would be a fine place to see in 2012. This is the reply I received (in capital letters, no less): “ALL OF OUR VENUES ARE CLOSED ON NEW YEAR’S EVE!”
I was completely floored by his response. There was no, “Hey Naren, nice to hear from you. Great to see you’ll be in my city for the New Year. Unfortunately none of our venues are open that evening, but may I suggest you check out X Bar who are putting on a great party that night. Ask for Nicolas on the door. If not, I think Y and Z bars are also doing something cool. If you need any other help while you’re in town, please don’t hesitate to call me on 555-blah blah blah.”
For any of you who travel at all in our industry, I’m sure you’ve been on the receiving end of some wonderful hospitality when visiting a foreign land. Maybe it’s Jim Meehan squeezing you in on a last minute reservation at his tiny bar, PDT. Perhaps it’s John Gakuru giving you the names of every decent bar and bartender that you should check out in his native London. Or it could be Sam Jeveons, all too happy to show you around the back alleys of Hong Kong. Whatever the gesture, whether it be a couch to crash on or a bartender to visit, the effort is minimal yet the rewards far outweigh this, forging a deep respect and is often the case, life-long friendships. And you couldn’t buy that sh!t even if it was on sale.
I’m sure everyone reading this has at some stage ‘hosted’ someone visiting from out of town. Maybe it was a lifelong friend; maybe it was a total stranger. I’m not suggesting that you should be putting your life on hold for a visiting ‘friend of a friend.’ But if all you have is five minutes – and we all have five minutes – to write a quick email suggesting a small handful of places for them to visit and perhaps the name of who they should ask for when they get there, then that will make me very happy. If you have time to buy them a beer, even better. Reciprocation is a powerful gesture whose ripples will be felt around the world.
Maybe I’ve been spoiled in the past. I’ve been welcomed by total strangers in profound and unexpected ways. But many of my closest friendships across the globe have been forged by the simple act of helping each other. We were all strangers at one stage whose common thread was that we just wanted to see some cool bars, meet some cool people and feel welcomed along the way. Now this global bartending community has stretched its arms to every corner of the globe and that’s a beautiful thing that we should all be thankful for and continue to propagate. We shouldn’t be closing our doors in people’s faces like what I experienced above. It’s a sad day when there is no welcome mat laid out for you.
Jacob Briars, Simon Ford, John Gakuru, Mike Enright, Stefano Catino and so many others (including Julio Bermejo, a warm and gracious host who oozes hospitality, pictured here) are good friends that in the past have been more than happy to help others out (even total strangers who come with nothing more than me vouching for them) with a place to lay their head, a cheap hotel suggestion, a place to store their bags, a nice meal, a cold beer, a subway card, a ride to the airport, a cocktail or two, an offer to share a bed, or most importantly, being introduced to the who’s who in that city. Because in the end, it all starts with cultivating real relationships with real people.
Please comment here about a person or experience where you were warmly welcomed into a foreign land.
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