“Non avrei mai potuto fare nient’altro”
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Valentina Grilli, barlady at MAG and Backdoor43 cocktail bars. Other than making consistently great cocktails, Vale has another redeeming quality that makes her an ideal bartender. She never forgets to greet you with a smile as you enter or leave the bar. I was curious to find out where Vale developed her great mixing and people skills.
As it turns out, she’s been in the bar industry for 10 years. She started her career in Ferrara (Emilia Romagna) working in a multi-purpose restaurant that also had a pastry shop and bar. She spent time as a coffee barista and server before finally getting her shot at mixing drinks. Although she only made touristy commercial drinks like spritz, americano, and mojito, she loved her job and decided that bartending could be her future career. Two years into the experience, she met a family who planned to open the first American cocktail bar in the city. It was there that she met Andrea Fidora, her first mentor in the cocktail industry. She perfected her techniques over 2 years under Andrea’s skillful guidance, mastering all the classic cocktails.
From there, she had several seasonal bartending jobs, including a hotel in Bolzano and a high volume bar in Tuscany, where the clientele were mostly rich women. Needless to say, she made (and drank) lots of champagne and Bloody Marys. From Tuscany, she tried her luck at a ski resort hotel, where she managed to greatly improve her English skills. Then, she worked at a cocktail bar in Olbia, before trying to settle down a bit in Bologna, with aspirations of becoming a sommelier.
Then by chance in January 2015, a colleague gave her name to the Campari champion Andrea Dracos, who had a position he urgently needed to fill at MAG café. Although Vale was in town for a sommelier job interview at Expo 2015, she decided to meet with up with Andrea. Apparently things went well because on the second round interview, the boss Flavio hired her without asking her a single question – except of course, when can you start? The day after, Vale started working at MAG where she has been a principal bartender for nearly two years.
When I asked her why there aren’t more female bartenders in Italy, the reason for Vale’s career choice became immediately clear to me. She explained to me that bartending is a very hectic job. As part of the dynamic and fast-pace life, bartenders change jobs often, usually staying at a bar for only 6 months to a year. When she had aspirations of becoming a sommelier, it was because she wanted to slow things down. She had a serious boyfriend at the time and thought that a sommelier job was more ideally suited to long term stability. But the slower pace sommelier life wasn’t for Vale.
Actually, most people can’t handle the stress of working at the high-volume MAG. I’ve seen many wait staff and bartenders quit right away. But Vale thrives on the adrenalin. Mixing rapid fire but high quality cocktails with a smile on her face. Vale is a natural for this game.
When you stop by MaG, ask Vale to make you a delicious Farmily Daiquiri 2
30 mL lime
10 mL sugar
5 mL Clairin Casimir
50 mL Farmily Botanical Spirit 2016
Photography by Toney Teddy Fernandez