Eric Lorincz: From bartender to bar owner
Having led the American Bar at The Savoy to glory, Erik Lorincz realised his dream of opening his own venue with Kwānt. He spoke to The Spirits Business about the emotional move from bartender to bar owner, and his future aspirations.
*This feature was originally published in the July 2019 edition of The Spirits Business magazine.
“I always wanted to open my own bar,” says Erik Lorincz, as he smiles and settles back into an armchair in his newly opened London venue.
The former head bartender at The Savoy’s American Bar left the iconic venue last spring after more than eight years in the role. He can now be found behind the stick at 19th-century-style cocktail den Kwānt in Mayfair, his first opening.
“It’s a massive relief now that it’s open,” he says. “Before opening I was having three or four hours of sleep, then in the middle of the night I was waking up and thinking of something I needed to do. When we received the shelving for the bottles, they didn’t fit in and I didn’t sleep all night.”
Having overseen the design, build and menu creation at Kwānt – which was arguably one of the most eagerly anticipated openings of this year – Lorincz has come a long way since arriving in London in 2004 with just a “backpack, map of the city, and a prepaid language school in Camden”.
Much to learn
Lorincz moved to the UK after cutting his teeth behind the bar in his native Slovakia.
“I realised that I was very young and that there was so much to learn about bartending, plus I wanted to learn English,” he explains.
Despite having managed a bar in Slovakia and working at “massive private parties for a guy that would fly in on his helicopter and buy a Lamborghini for his birthday”, when Lorincz came to the UK he found himself working from the bottom up again.
“I ended up in a nightclub brushing the floor and cleaning ashtrays,” he says. “That was a bit of a change, but I was ready for it and I always said it was not going to be forever – I just needed to learn English. In the day time I was in school then in the evening I was going to work in the nightclub, and I was still just 26 so that was the perfect age to be taking on the hard work.”
Lorincz worked at London nightclub Attica for two years, rising through the ranks to become the club’s head bartender. After stints behind the bar at Japanese restaurant Nozomi and the Purple Bar at London’s Sanderson Hotel, he was beginning to make a name for himself in London’s cocktail scene and became fixated on the next challenge.
“I’d worked in a cocktail bar, in a nightclub, in a restaurant bar and in a hotel bar,” says Lorincz. “One day I thought, ‘I’m in England, which has so much history when it comes to five-star hotel bars, I really would like to work at one where you can really discover this grand style’.”
It was at this time that Lorincz discovered that The Connaught in Mayfair was closing for renovation. Agostino Perrone would be leading the bar team at the luxury hotel when it reopened, so Lorincz reached out to him and got the job, giving him insight into what it takes to open a venue from scratch.
“I wanted to be part of the opening team because I had so many ideas, but I could not really put them into use because other times there was already a product in place and they had already set their standard,” he explains. “With a new opening, they were looking for something different and it was a great opportunity for me. I worked there for about two years until I won the World Class global final; that was probably the moment when everything changed in my career.”
Lorincz triumphed in the global cocktail competition in 2010, after which time he received the call that would define his next eight years.
“After World Class, lots of doors began to open in terms of work – then I got the offer from The Savoy,” he says. “They were looking for a head bartender and when I got offered that I thought ‘right, this is a serious offer’. Not many people get the opportunity to be the next in a line of so many great bartenders that have worked there.”
Before joining the American Bar, Lorincz remembers a time when he visited the bar with a host who told him they were going there just to see the venue, not to taste the drinks. This sentiment sat in his mind and drove him to create drinks that would encourage people back to the bar time and time again. “The Savoy has a unique character, and has been there for 120 years. I really wanted to preserve that. I wanted to make sure that people would still come back to try some of the best cocktails that they had tasted. That was the mission for me,” he explains.
With Lorincz in charge, the American Bar went on to win numerous awards around the world – including World’s Best Bar at the Spirited Awards, hosted by New Orleans festival Tales of the Cocktail.
Despite leading the bar to revered heights, after eight years Lorincz felt his role at The Savoy was changing.
He says: “In my last few years at The Savoy it was very much like turning into a kind of ambassador and creative brain behind the bar projects. I was just bringing ideas to the table and doing lots of travel, while a bar manager was holding it down and putting all of this together.”
He then decided it was time to move on, and having first seen the space three years before, Lorincz was already formulating his plans for Kwānt.
“I was slowly, quietly building it in the back of my mind,” he says. “I wanted to make sure that once I was ready to leave The Savoy I had it all set to go. So when I was resigning, I already had a contract on the table and I had this project coming up. It worked out perfectly, and I left The Savoy after eight years and had a year’s break to travel and see the world.”
Lorincz says he was “sad to leave” The Savoy, and that his last day came with several emotional moments as he left the ‘family’ he had built up. But as he now presides over his own bar with a new family of bartending talent to work with, Lorincz takes a moment to consider the events in his career that gave him the most enjoyment.
He says: “The moment my mum and dad said that I had made a good decision stands out. Because when I told them that I wanted to be a bartender, in a country that had no cocktail culture, they were saying ‘what are you going to do?’ – but today I think they are the happiest and most proud parents.
“When they see that I have my own bar and that I am appearing here and there in the papers, that’s what makes parents happy.”