Updated: Mar 29
Moscow Bar Show (MBS for short) isn’t a new kid on the block & yet it is one of the most overlooked bar events in the industry calendar globally. From notoriously difficult VISA applications, the overall “SCARY” global political climate & the fact it isn’t even held in Moscow even anymore. Ever since the financial crisis & that the Russian Federation became a “Black Market” aka you can’t advertise alcohol on the streets anymore the marketing budgets have dried up considerably. Yet everyone knows the Russian’s down go down without a fight! MBS has come back to kick some ass & chew bubble gum except its all out of bubble gum.
Cocktails For You, alongside a slew of international speakers, was invited this year to participate as part of the event. Eddie, the founder of the platform, was a guest speaker with our signature seminar “The Power of Social Media”, we had a special guest shift alongside Banks Rum with the European Brand Ambassador Alison Bartrop & we were on hand to capture ALL the seminar action by Live-streaming everything online.
The Big 3 Moments
At Cocktails For You we’re privileged to travel all over the world working with some of the leading bar shows globally in numerous markets. Sometimes we even think that maybe bar shows are the new cocktail bars, there seems to be a new one popping up everywhere now that bartenders discovered that making money is very difficult in the on-trade.
So it came to our surprise that MBS managed to provide us with one of the best bar show experiences we’ve ever had. Period. So we’d like to break down a little below some of the weird & wonderful moments that stood out to us particularly during our visit:
Stands run like bars -
Sailor Jerry & Jack Daniels FIRE particularly stood out during the show as the brand had approached the idea of hosting a stand like running an actual venue for 3 days. Quality bartenders, simple but actually balanced drinks & a killer soundtrack to boot! Relaxed vibe atmosphere that made you want to hang out there with your friends & just enjoy your time. We cannot stress enough how I would like your brand a million times more if I’m enjoying my time instead of listening to a repeat monologue about the history of your product.
Cosplay & Attitude -
We’re used to seeing the bartender “look” with carefully curated moustaches, waistcoats & armbands. Personally we find nothing wrong with this image & salute those who are able to get up that early to make all that effort but MBS showed as that bartenders in Russia have grown beyond the tired stereotypes. Furthermore the atmosphere of the bar show encouraged laughter, playfulness & almost “roleplaying” as opposed to the usual behaviour. Our stand-outs were the Angostura Rum “Ghostbuster”, the Mr Murka Nikolay Kiselev & Bek Narzi alongside his private “Sexcurity”.
Basic Needs -
This might sound a little boring but it is laughable how many bar shows fail at meeting the basic needs of people. This is a 3-day event with considerable drinking as well as plenty of nighttime activities specifically curated for the average Russian bartender. So it was so refreshing to see that the event understood its audience so well! Plenty of free water everywhere, a food court with over 13 stands selling quality grub for a reasonable price & most importantly for a 3 day ticket price equivalent of 25 euros.
The Educational Content
It is of course important to remember that all bar shows started off as a way for bartender to gather to network, share knowledge & discover new ideas. Nowadays every new show is the “BIGGEST ONE EVER” with reported numbers that can fill as small country. MBS reported to us that this year they saw an increase of over 30% attendance at the event, their rough count of number of unique visitors was just under 5,000 hospitality professionals. In order to fulfil the needs of the knowledge hungry bartenders you need a killer line-up especially if they’re to travel all across the biggest country in the world just to attend.
With over 5 seminar rooms running back to back for 3 days straight I think one of the biggest issues that MBS had is TOO MUCH content. The majority of the speakers were home-grown talent so we’re going to focus a little on the international guests invited. Here’s our top picks:
Bols Business Class -
As we’d mentioned before we’d been invited to speak at this bar show & it was part of the Lucas Bols Business Class side-event. Thanks to Sasha Timofeev & the entire Bols company for arranging this as we presented our seminar on social media. The room was packed with over 200 bartenders sitting & some unconfirmed number standing, we spoke about the importance of social media in the lives of the common bartender. They didn’t know we could speak Russian. We made bad jokes, it was great!
Healthy Hospo -
One of the stand out Livestreams came from Tim Judge of the Healthy Hospo company from the UK. He reminded us the importance of looking after ourselves, of the damage alcohol & lack of sleep actually do to our body & that contrary to what we think that we don’t actually live forever. The bartending world is expanding at an alarming rate & it is mentors like this that will guide our industry forward.
Bek Narzi -
One cannot visit Russia without hearing about Bek Narzi, famously outspoken, he never fails to make an impression that lasts forever. Bek spoke a lot regarding his personal journey through the hospitality industry with some key messages that we really agree on including the method of flushing negativity away, supporting your colleagues, stop trying to do everything yourself & that YOU CAN ONLY LEARN ON FAILURE.
Interestingly it was one of the few seminars that had a separate charge to attend & made us think a little bit about a new model for international guest speakers. If you have a space for 200 people to attend & there is a supplement charge of €2.50 per head to attend your seminar there is a potential profit of €500 if you fill the room. Some guest speakers nowadays charge huge amounts of money to speak at bar shows, it would be very interesting if their fee would be directly linked to seminar attendance.
Also I doubt bartenders would be late to come if they’d actually paid a fee for a spot.
Good Kid - M.A.A.D City
You can’t visit the cultural capitol of Russia as a guest to a bar event without visiting a few late night spots can you? Our tour started off with a one-of-a-kind guest shift at probably one of the most entertaining bars in the city. Piers 28 was our host alongside Banks Rum where we made twists on classics alongside Alison Bartrop, she was the woman who’d put this crazy shindig together & made magic happen.
There were pineapples, we took it all to funky town & one of the coldest cities in the country tasted some sugarcane sunshine.
Another highlight was the Mootee Bar guest shift held in a very carefully soundproofed apartment somewhere where we don’t remember. This bar from South Africa brought the noise with a hell of a party, there was a blindfolded Daiquiri being made, African ingredients nobody could pronounce or has ever heard of & lots of people dancing on the bar top. Not sure if anyone made it to the end, scared to ask if they did!
If you were find yourself in St. Petersburg you can’t miss a visit to the internationally famous El Copitas. A speakeasy by requirement rather than by concept, it was the OG Mezcaleria of Russia especially since the government still bans the spirit. The hospitality felt like stepping into your grandmothers house where all guests sat at one big table, food & drinks were handed out to all & you made more friends leaving than when you came in. There are not enough metaphors in our vocabulary to describe the specifics of the experience yet we believe the highest accolade of a venue if to make you feel at home & at home we felt.
We’d like to point out they don’t leave you empty handed because as you step out into the cold Russian night you’re handed a lovely traditional Mexican hot chocolate to go. Even if you end up on a horse pretending to be Putin afterwards…
The real hero…
Events like this always sound amazing because the spotlight it always held on the positives. There are the sponsors that supported the show, the bartenders who all attended & the speakers that provided the education. Everyone has a shot & everything looks great!
Yet there is always one person who’s sheer willpower has made this whole thing what it is & like a swan she looks calm & collected whilst paddling like made underneath the water to stop herself from drowning. That person for MBS is none other than ARINA NIKOLSKAYA.
Here at Cocktails For You we met Arina almost 2 years ago & have since travelled with her to many bar events around the globe from New Orleans, New York to London & Athens. She has never bartender actively, she isn’t trying to sell you a product for your backbar & she just goes to see what others are doing. Always actively looking for new techniques, ideas & inspiration to share with her bartenders back home in the motherland.
She has never used her position to get a freebie, never shows off how important she actually is or actively promote what she does. If there is an award for lifetime MVP in the bar industry it goes to her & even though she doesn’t have a bartending background she is closer to our industry than some “startenders” we’ve met…
Thank you Arina.
This has been COCKtails for You - By bartenders for bartenders!