Tales of the Cocktail Foundation presents The Great Bar Race sponsored by GREY GOOSE® celebrates the often unrecognized acts of service and the industry professionals who execute them in a competition that puts their skills and teamwork to the test. For more information on how to enter and to attend a live event, see the Great Bar Race site.
Even though Maxime Belfand wasn’t going to be able to participate in the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation’s The Great Bar Race sponsored by Grey Goose, he still wanted to create the best team possible to represent his bar. The bar manager at New York’s Saxon & Parole wanted players known for their speed behind the bar, who were going to have fun, and who, most certainly were going to win. Three of those bartenders—Mika Dastas, Mamadu Papa, and Tsmiafei Moroz—were already working for him at Saxon & Parole. For the fourth participant, he needed to walk around the corner to their sister bar.
“Max came into Ghost Donkey and told me ‘Lalo, you will be part of our team for Great Bar Race,” says Edouardo “Lalo” Hernandez. “With no more choices and no pressure, my answer was: OK.”
In a star-studded field with bartenders representing such local institutions as The Dead Rabbit, Katana Kitten, NoMad, and Employee’s Only, the Saxon & Parole team outshone all others in a series of service-inspired challenges to take home the title of the best bar team in New York. In a way, though, Saxon & Parole had a unique advantage—they all already compete together weekly.
“Not only do we all work together and have great relationships with each other, but we also play football together,” explains Tsmiafei Moroz. “So our team was always ready to win—we didn’t just build it just for competition.”
Behind the Team
Still, football is quite different from bartending. Luckily, Belfrand has long instilled in everyone an ethic toward great service with a smile, something crucial for this competition. Dastas believes that starts by creating a friendly and relaxed atmosphere—decor, music, even a quality customer base—something Saxon & Parole has in spades.
“When everything is there you just have to enjoy the rush for a couple of hours, be fast, make people happy, and create a full customer experience,” explains Dastas.
He took a similar approach toward the competition, greatly excelling in Relay Race, where he had to race against the clock, and unexpected obstacles, to create three complete and presentable cocktails. Hernandez likewise showed his speed in the competition, something he also credits to his day job.
“I’m used to making quality cocktails at a fast pace,” he explains. He’s also used to keeping everyone in good spirits, a trait he brought to the Great Bar Race as well, like when his teammates were struggling through Free Pour. That’s something else he learned at the bar, as he notes:
“When I see guests happy it means they are comfortable and having a good time with a standard service, but if I see them coming back feeling at home, that what great service means to me.”
Still, as Papa explains, great communication and friendship, is what ultimately allowed them to succeed behind the bar, and in the competition:
“In general I would say working together and for each other (‘one for all and all for one’) is why we won. For each step of the game we always made sure to know who would do this or that better and that is how we dispatched the roles before starting each of the challenges. Each one of us knew what to do for every step of the game and how to do it best because we made sure of it.”