10 Jun
The owner of the Lucky Shaker cocktail bars, Michael.

The owner of the Lucky Shaker cocktail bars in uMhlanga and Ballito says he’s super proud to be able to fly the flag for KZN.

“I’ve been competing in various bartending competitions for 17 years and we’ve always been the underdogs, even though we’ve done a lot of dominating,” says Michael Stephenson. “Last year Lucky Shaker won four national titles from three different bartenders, so we’re doing something right.”

He says it’s probably his experience and interest in “the full picture” that made him top dog in the Monkey Shoulder competition.

“I’ve been creating cocktail menus, doing proper calculations, pouring and measuring for so many years that most of the competitions skills came naturally to me.”

Described as the competition that “tests the skills that pay the bills”, the format included six challenges: a general knowledge quiz, pouring, nosing, table service, the perfect serve, and round building.

Said Joe Petch, Global Brand Ambassador for Monkey Shoulder: “The Ultimate Bartender Challenge is an unconventional bartending championship, with a series of rounds aimed at testing all the skills that make a bartender extraordinary.

“It has been running for over six years globally and gives bartenders from each region the spotlight they thoroughly deserve.

“It is evident from the scores and flair witnessed at the 2019 South African championship that there are some undeniably talented and passionate bartenders in the region.”

Having been in the hospitality industry for much of his life, Michael believes the recipe for success is all about thorough training, learning new skills and having an insatiable curiosity.

“But you have to have fun doing it,” he laughs. “After all, we’re in the business of making people happy.”

Lifting the Monkey Shoulder trophy – which is a specially designed ring – from some of the best bartenders around the country – means that Michael will be jetting off to the UK for London Cocktail Week in October.

“With my fellow winners I’ll be exposed to all the latest trends in the industry through seminars, themed evenings, tours and brand events and, of course, I’ll get to visit some of the city’s top bars. It’s all about connection and inspiration.”

One bar on his wish list is Tayer Elementary in Old Street, owned by Alex Kratena and Monica Berg, who used to be bartenders at Artesian Bar, also in London, which won The World’s 50 Best Bars four years in a row.

“It’s their first venture on their own and with their amazing approach to hospitality and their belief in collaboration, it should be industry defining,” says Michael.

One of his overseas favourites is Duck and Cover in Copenhagen. “It’s owned by a friend and was modelled on his grandparents’ lounge … very Scandinavian, moody, comfortable and beautiful.”

Locally, Michael wouldn’t mind sipping a Negroni at Sin+Tax in Joburg or Cause Effect in Cape Town.

“Great decor, great service, great company and great conversation is what makes a great bar anywhere in the world,” says Michael.


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