Jeff ‘Beachbum’ Berry and StanisLav Vadrna came back to the Mediterranean island of Ibiza in June of 2011 to host the second annual Faux-Tropical Bar School, a four day intensive course on all things Tiki and tropical drinks and to discuss the psychology and spirit of Aloha and how to incorporate that feeling and disposition into service as a bartender. I got to join them.
I am mostly going to focus on my experience of getting to the course so anyone else interested understands that once you get past all the hurdles, it is entirely worth it. This was an AMAZING experience and you MUST do this if you have any interest in Tiki or Tropical drinks and you can make it over. Hopefully this will help you find your way there.
The first session didn’t start until June 30th, so I emailed some questions in March asking where it was exactly, what I needed to know about accommodations, and if any more planning had been finalized. I got prompt responses, but they seemed to be running into some logistic issues with the location and there really wasn’t much information to give. It wasn’t until June 3rd (less than a month from the start of the course) that I got an email with the location of the course and a list of recommended hotels and was asked to make the initial payment of 400 Euro (half the fee for the course).
This is not a class sponsored by a corporation, so you can’t secure your place with a deposit on a credit card as they are not set up for that. I needed to fill out the registration form and then wire 400 Euro to an account in The Slovak Republic. I spoke with my bank in the United States and had them wire the money on the 7th. This made me a little nervous, as I wasn’t sure if I was guaranteed a space in the course, wire transfers can take sometimes a week to complete, and the course was only a few weeks away! By the 14th, I still had not gotten confirmation that they had received my payment, but Ivan, the person I was then communicating with via email, definitively said, “If you did it, you’re in, don’t worry about your seat in the course.” Holding my breath and crossing my fingers, I booked my flights and started contacting the suggested hotels. I got my flights squared away, but all the suggested hotels were full.
I was told that the location of the school was “La Sal Rossa beach bar.” When you pull this up on Google Maps, it is not close to where I thought the course was going to be held and it was not at all on the beach. After asking Ivan for help again, he said that he, Stan, and possibly Jeff were going to be staying at Hotel Algarb. Assuming they would book somewhere close to the location of the course, I jumped on Algarb’s page and immediately booked a room. The registration form made it look like I got one of the last rooms available. Whew! Happy to have everything squared away and just in time. The course was starting in two weeks!
On the 19th, all attendees got an email from Ivan that asked if we had all of our “bartending tools and Hawaiian shirts ready?” Wait. What? I need to bring things? On the 26th, Ivan sent another email with a list of bar equipment we should bring and mentioned that we could also bring any special equipment that we think we might need. Not entirely sure what special equipment I would need and flying out only two days later with no time to order anything else, I threw my hands up in the air, hoped for the best, and packed the basics that he listed – shaker, bar spoon, jiggers, knife, glass, peelers, strainers, you know, the kinds of things you expect to need in a tropical paradise.
Flights from Glasgow to Ibiza don’t really line up well, and there was a layover in Gatwick for 4 hours no matter what day I flew, so I wouldn’t land in Ibiza until 10:15pm. I wasn’t keen on the idea of getting there late and then going to the course first thing the next morning, so I decided to fly in a day early. I also didn’t want to run into any troubles if a plane got cancelled or times adjusted. Besides, I needed to figure out where this “La Sal Rossa” beach bar was anyway.
The flights there were no problem and the cab to hotel was simple. I unpacked, got my bearings, walked around a bit and went to sleep, anxious to explore this tropical paradise the next day.
The next morning, I set off in search of “La Sal Rossa Ibiza.” Google Maps says it is about a 40 minute walk from my hotel. That seemed excessive, but whatever. I like to walk. This also put me near Ibiza Town, where I was sure to find a place to get a local SIM card for data for my phone. The SIM card thing totally failed by the way, but that is an entirely different story.
I got to where Google said “La Sal Rossa Ibiza” was located and it was an empty field. With a chuckle and a shrug, I made my way to Ibiza Town to see what there was to see there. I browsed the shops, checked out the port, visited the castle, had a drink and some lunch, failed completely on getting a SIM card for my phone, and made my way back toward the hotel and beach, thinking I would just start asking around for where La Sal Rossa beach bar was.
At the first few places I asked, no one had any idea where the bar was. A few bars later, I found someone who pointed me to a place a bit further down the beach. I got to the bar and, to make sure I was in the right place, showed the bartender the email Ivan sent out with “La Sal Rossa Xiringuito” on it. She nodded enthusiastically. Superb! And it is just a short, pleasant walk down the beach from my hotel! Having accomplished my mission, I gleefully played in the ocean, ate some dinner, had some drinks, prepared my bag with the bar tools I was told to bring and the 400 Euro for the other half of the course, and crashed out for the night, confident that I knew where I was going and had everything I needed.
The next morning, I arrived at La Sal Rossa right on time at 10:00am. Odd that I was the only one there wearing a Hawaiian shirt. This can’t be right. Instead of asking the bartender who steered me wrong the day before, I found the front desk and asked the person checking people in if I was in the right place. He shook his head, walked me out to the sand, and pointed to the far end of the beach. He had a chuckle that this place and the other were named the same thing. This had obviously come up before. I didn’t even mention the empty field I visited the day before and set off for the other end of the beach, annoyed that I would arrive late on the first day.
After walking about a mile down the beach, I figured I had missed it and was about to give up hope and head back the other way. The beach was turning into rocks soon, so I figured I’d walk to the end and then start back, carefully looking for names and asking more people along the way . . . and then I saw it! The third La Sal Rossa! I hurried inside, happy to only be about 15 minutes late after all that.
I met Stan and Jeff and was then told to go wait in the parking lot with everyone else because they had a special welcome planned. Happy to see that I had missed nothing, I went out to meet the other course attendees. Before long, we were called over for the official welcoming ceremony which included Stan presenting us with a Lei and smelling each side of our face and Jeff handing us some delicious Okolehao Liqueur from Maui! What an adventure we all had in store for us!
From here, forward, despite a few very minor glitches, this was an amazing experience! Each day was packed with discussion, presentations, cocktail preparations, sampling, history, the art of ice, the proper glass, the proper shake, facts, fictions, stories and rumors, a field trip to watch the sunset and drink some amazing rums, a create your own cocktail final, and a luau with more amazing rums, some Beachbum prepared punches, and good times had by all.
This course was a game changer for me. I felt, in a lot of respects, like “I got it.” I understood Aloha, I got the mentality and the spirit of what needs to go into these drinks to make them more than just the combination of ingredients. The course clarified the components and structure of what can and does make a great tropical drink. It just made sense.
I have to admit, I was a little nervous flying down alone to an island in the Mediterranean without really knowing anyone or what I was in store for, not being a professional bartender by trade and hoping I had the right equipment and basic knowledge to get by, not knowing whether they got my initial wire transfer and not being sure where anything was once I got there, but it was so worth it and everything worked out. Everyone was friendly and helpful and I left there with new friends, a bit of a tan, and the skills to make some damn fine Tiki & Tropical Drinks.
Hold your breath, jump in, and do it! In the end, everything will get sorted out and it will be an experience you will never forget.