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This Is What Creativity Means to Nikolas Zoylinos

The Austin-based bartender on balancing improvisation and structure, his globetrotting introduction to bartending and the recipe for his cocktail, Oops I Forgot My Line.

Nikolas Zoylinos grew up going to town markets in England with his salesman father, who—Greek-born, charismatic, and talkative—impressed upon him the importance of connecting with every potential customer. The younger Zoylinos, aka Nik the Greek, has taken that lesson to heart in his bartending career, garnishing his style with a running commentary of humor, asides and mixological insights, as well as the improvisational technique he employs as an aspiring actor.

Zoylinos fell into his bar career in a similarly impromptu manner. At 20, on a whim, he moved to the south of France and began working as a tour guide; to make extra money, he got a gig at a hostel bar, mixing up Cosmopolitans and Mojitos that were, by his own admission, “awful, absolutely awful.” But the guests were college students and itinerant travelers looking for company, and “it was fun. As long as I kept entertaining, the boss didn’t mind.”

He then moved to Australia and worked at a Greek restaurant, where he took his skills to the next level by memorizing 72 classic cocktails and the stories behind them. He also spontaneously entered a cocktail competition sponsored by chef Jamie Oliver. His Greek Treacle used spiced baklava syrup to put a Mediterranean spin on the rum-and-apple classic. Though he had only been seriously bartending for a few months, he ended up placing third overall, and in the process discovered a passion for serious bartending.

His next move took him to London, where he landed at job at one of the city’s most acclaimed tiki and rum bars. “I found my confidence behind the bar,” he says. “I got good at bartending, up to London standards.”

At the same time, he was pursuing his career on the stage and applying to the competitive Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. In the process, he learned to combine flow with structure, buttressed by loads of practice. Discipline could go hand in hand with spontaneity, and he found himself thriving under pressure. “I’ve always liked stress,” he says. “I’ve made some of the best drinks I’ve ever made on the spot, out of the blue.”

Though he was accepted to the Royal Academy, plans had already solidified to open a new bar in Austin, Texas. He made the choice: Throw his energy behind the venture in America. The new opportunity has given him a home base to weave together the threads of his knowledge and skills gleaned from around the world, while continuing to pursue acting.

It’s a choice emblematic of Zoylinos’ overarching philosophy to approach things as they come and find inspiration in the moment, whether behind the bar or onstage. “I make long-term plans, but I always take it day by day. What I always [come] back to is engaging in the present.”

What is your creative outlet outside of bartending?

How does it inspire you?
[It] inspires me to be the best storyteller I can be.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
If you can’t blind them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

Describe your creative process in one sentence.
Start with the story.

What’s been the most rewarding aspect of competition so far?
An opportunity to entertain and represent my own bar.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
Business owner and successful actor.

Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
Octopus Martini.

Worst thing you ever drank:
The octopus Martini I tried to create. In hindsight, completely awful.

What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
Doing things I’ve never done.

If you had to listen to one album on loop for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Method to the Maadness by Kano.

What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
French Braille. When I learned French, my teacher was blind, so I had to do my homework in Braille in French.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
Lottery numbers.

Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
16-ounce latte with full-fat cream (in a cocktail bar).

Best meal you’ve ever had:
Best dish: red mullet empanada in Majorca, name of restaurant unknown.

What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
Gin & Tonic. I’m British.

Dive bar?
Beer and rye.

The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
Dry ice.

The last text message you sent:
Bro, you ate all the avocados wtf.

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