Speakeasy cocktail bar in Budapest
From the drink menu, it becomes obvious that this is Hungary’s first neo-speakeasy bar, it is not impossible to have cocktail for breakfast at six in the evening, that barmen are the best men to flirt with and that there are so many more cocktails than we would have ever heard of. Zoltán Nagy, one of the owners of the Boutiq’Bar spent his summers working in a club in Spain during his university years, then after graduating as a stockbreeder, he moved to London to spend half a year there. In the end, he spent ten times as much time there, he never worked breeding animals, but he did in various bars. When he returned to Hungary in 2005, he was planning to give up hospitality and opened a clothes shop. The shop was not working well and in 2008, the Boutiq’Bar opened, which – and this is confirmed by the approval of professionals – by now is of international standard. I talked to Zoltán about learning, gaining experience, being humble and about carpe diem.
How did you end up abroad?
I had a friend who worked in Spain one summer. He told me that it was great fun, so the next year I went with him and it really was.
In what ways did you benefit from this experience?
Spain taught me how to speak languages and how to be shameless. It is very important to live without shame and to be able to ask without difficulty. I realised that a lot of people fail because they make guesses of what the other person will say without even talking to them, so in a lot of cases they decide against trying. But what is the worst that can happen? You get ’no’ for an answer.
Not so long ago I was reminded by an acquaintance of mine how I managed to pass my state exam. That year I had very little money, because I started a business and my business partner left taking all the money I invested into the project, so I had to borrow 17.000 HUF to be able to travel to Spain to work. I sent some money home from there so that my thesis could be bound, I took my state exam and then returned to Spain to work.
As for languages, I went there speaking really basic English and I could also speak some Romanian but by that time my language skills were not so great any more. I decided that in the next five years I would learn five new languages. To tell you the truth, I did not really believe that I would be able to do it, but since I had already promised it to myself, I thought I had to do it – and I did it. After this, I moved to England to learn the language well enough and to earn some money.
Why did you decide to return?
London is extremely fast-paced and I got a bit tired. After the first year, I travelled somewhere every three months just to be away from London. When I came back home, I had the impression in Budapest as if I had moved to a farm near Szeged.
Besides all this, by the end of the fifth year, my back was aching a lot, the reason for which I still didn’t know back then, but I was having difficulty working as a waiter and I would not have been able to finance the medical exams and treatments back there. And let’s not forget that originally, I was only going to stay in England for half a year. Therefore, we decided with my girlfriend to come back home after 4 years and 9 months.
Did you think that it would be better here?
I thought that the grass is a lot greener on this side of the fence and that a lot of changes had taken place in the previous five years. Then it turned out that not much had changed and looking at it through ’English eyes’, people had become even more depressed.
In 2008, I briefly considered going back, but by then I already had the bar and we had invested so much money into it with my partner that we thought that if we had already started, we would have to keep going. Practically, we were escaping by moving ahead.
It seems that it has worked.
I thought a lot about what the secret was behind the things we did and I think it was the carpe diem. We always expect something huge to happen, but there are no such things. Everything is made up of little things.
Another very important thing is not to set limits for ourselves. For a lot of people, if they set a goal, the first thing that comes to their minds is what obstacles will come up that will make it harder – the objections about how they are not going to be able to make it happen.
Why did you decide to create the Boutiq’Bar?
I had a very simple reason: I wanted to show to people that things can be done in a different way. I wanted to show it to Hungarian barmen that what function as bars in Hungary are not what bars should be like. The choice of drinks does not have to be the five drinks that can be found everywhere.
In what ways in the Boutiq’Bar different from an average Hungarian bar?
We add value. Everybody who starts working for me has to learn that here we do not serve or deliver service, but we add value. With the colours, the lights, the music, with your looks, your speech, your intonation, your gestures – you add value. This is the main difference between our bar and the others.
I think it’s a huge problem in Hungary that in a lot of places they try to spare money on the staff. They spend a hundreds of millions of forints on interior design, but they are not willing to dedicate 3-4 million forints to give their staff a proper training that would teach them how to add value to what they are doing.
How do you choose the best employees?
I never choose somebody after the first encounter. Since the bar opened, I have worked a lot with the human psyche, gestures, I learnt that a lot can be concluded after the very first encounter, but there is no such thing as a perfect judgement upon first sight. In my eyes, a person who is humble is a lot more valuable, even if they do not know anything professionally than somebody who knows everything but is not humble. At the age of 25-30, it is really hard to teach somebody to be humble, because they normally take initiatives of this kind as personal offence. Going back to the roots and making up for holes in their personality – most people consider it a step backwards.
In the Boutiq’Bar nobody starts at the bar right away. It does not matter where and how much they have worked before, here they have to start from zero. However, it only depends on them how quick they learn and get adjusted, but it takes time.
Do you get a lot of people wanting to work here because they have heard about the Boutiq’Bar being a high-quality place and therefore want to work for you?
The problem is that my reputation is really bad, which is partly conscious, partly not. It is conscious because as I have mentioned, I am shameless, so I tell everybody what I think of their output. Most people are unable to face this. When somebody comes here thinking that they are superstar mixers and I make it understood to them that probably my three-year-old daughter could make a drink like them then normally it does not leave a good impression on them.
If somebody takes criticism well and is open to improve, do they get a chance?
Looking back, do you think that the road that led you here was more the result of you going with the flow or was it more conscious?
I think that in a given situation, one always makes a conscious decision. A part of this consciousness is to realise that you do not always have to live up to everybody’s expectations. It is not possible, the most important thing is that you yourself are satisfied with what you have achieved.
A very important point in my life was when I realised that looking back, I did not have any regrets. One tries to make good decisions 90 per cent of the time and even if it is not made rationally, we make a decision – at the given moment, that seems like the most ideal decision. You weight options pro and con and opt for a road to take. Maybe ten years later you realise that it was the wrong decision, but if you go back to the same position, with all the same conditions, the same amount of knowledge, the same amount of experience, you will go for the same option because you cannot decide against yourself. Therefore, I do not regret anything.
If I can give you a piece of advice, which I think is very important, whatever you decide to do: try to understand yourself! Try to get to know yourself, accept and love yourself and if this works then it does not matter what happens, the world will shine for you!
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