Q&A: Drinks with Dry Martini founder Javier de las Muelas

For those who know their cocktails, Dry Martini is not only the name of the James Bond favourite but also a Barcelona institution that has been serving them shaken, not stirred since 1978. On the World’s 50 Best Bars list for seven years in a row now — and currently the third-best gin bar worldwide — Dry Martini has become a Barcelona mainstay thanks to its iconic cocktails and the quiet, classic and relaxed atmosphere, presumably cultivated for sipping perfectly shaken martinis.

Having served over a million dry martinis since its inception, this legendary bar, with its white-suited barmen and retro revival English feel, has become a global brand that continues to appeal to old and new cocktail lovers by maintaining its classic soul with a modern edge. With a continuous stream of collaborations and locations in Europe and Asia, including Chiang Mai and the recently opened location at Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou, Dry Martini founder Javier de las Muelas is not one for sitting still.

During a preview of a recent pop-up collaboration at the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, Javier shared his musings on the women who have inspired his iconic cocktails, what makes a perfect drink and why he hates being referred to as a mixologist.

Javier de las Muelas is the founder and head barman of Dry Martini in Barcelona.

Tell us how you became a bartender and why you don't like being referred to as a 'mixologist'?

I got into bartending because I was really shy growing up. It taught me how to speak to people and get over my fear. Working in a bar is not an art form and it’s not about being a star. It’s about taking care of people, like my own father used to do. He sold customised shoes and ingrained in me a work ethic to serve the customer.

I don’t like the term ‘mixologist’ because it’s a modern name for what should be ‘bartender’ or ‘barman’ — it’s a profession. I like being involved in all the aspects of creating that environment — the moment, music, all the elements to having a drink and being surrounded by good people. I want to be able to provide this same kind of experience in different bars all over the world.

What inspires your cocktail creations and how do you stay on top of the latest trends?

Bars are a window into people’s lives and an opportunity to see how people are living. My passion is for the people in bars, while the cocktail itself represents the culture of the bar. I love going to different kinds of bars (in addition to my own) to see what’s happening, meeting with customers and mixing with people. After all, many romantic stories usually start in bars.

Hong Kong is like a big cocktail to me. It’s a very international city that is a mix of different cultures and people. It’s a city that’s muy spicy, so the cocktails that we have brought here have a lot of spices, fruits, things that represent the mix of the city to me. 

As for the latest trends, sometimes it’s just too much. It’s not necessary for a bartender to create a salad. I believe in simplicity when it comes to cocktails. Whenever I see a high level of trends and sophistication with cocktails, I always see a return to the classics. People always go back to the same two or three cocktails including the martini, gin & tonic and negroni because simplicity in cocktails is what is important. For me the only cocktail that has remade itself is the cosmopolitan with the Sex and the City series.

The cosmopolitan has remade itself over the years.

What are the most important elements of a good cocktail?

For me, it’s actually never about the cocktail that you’re drinking. The most important parts of a good cocktail are the bar and the shared moment that you have with others. It’s about the music, environment, people around you and how the bartender works with all of these elements for a bar to be good. It should also never take more than six to seven minutes to make a cocktail. When a cocktail takes too long to make and comes out one by one, it breaks the synergy in the group. You don’t want a situation where one person is finishing a drink as another is starting.

Different cocktails are right for different moments and times. For example, with a group of us here in the afternoon, I would suggest a pisco sour. In Peru it’s a cocktail that’s served in a jug that can hold six to seven big “catedral” glasses. It’s the ideal cocktail for this moment because it provides a shared experience that everyone can enjoy at the same time.

What’s the significance of featuring famous women like Sharon Stone on your cocktail menu?

It started with making bars more attractive to women in the ’80s when I first opened Gimlet, my other bar in Barcelona. At the time it was a big deal to have women in bars because back then, bars were boys-only clubs with what I call fat, stupid, men and shades or blinds where you couldn’t see what was going on inside. I wanted to change the image of a bar to a sophisticated place where everyone, from elegant women to young people could enjoy a drink.

Given the importance of women in the evolution of bars, I’ve been inspired by strong women like Sharon Stone and Madonna who are well-known celebrities that people identify with for their elegance and beauty, and have had important roles that take you back to a different time.

Dry Martini’s relaxed atmosphere is cultivated for sipping a perfectly made martini.

Which other bars in the world would you recommend for their good cocktail culture?

Dukes in London is famous for its martinis and it’s where Sir Ian Fleming [said to have coined the phrase, “shaken, not stirred”] used to go to. Alessandro Palazzi is the bartender and he’s very good.

I also like bar culture in Japan and how they create a moment for people that’s very humble and simple. I like luxurious places but also simple places with a nice bar and bartender who is taking care of people. I don’t care for people who are just putting on a show. This is why I continue to work with the Four Seasons. They have a culture of humility and high quality of service that goes the extra mile for clients.

If you could make any cocktail, what would it be?

I prefer simple classics. For pre-dinner apertif, I prefer a negroni or dry martini. You only need one good drink, two is dangerous.

Someday though, I would like to try making a dry martini with Roquefort or Stilton cheese — those two things together are muy perfecto.