Besides Chainaya in Moscow, Delicatessen was always my favourite place to drink and also eat when in Moscow, so when I came back this time it was clear to me, that I had to get one of the owners from Delicatessen in front of my lens. Slava Booze Lankin, as his Facebook name shows, is a legend in Moscow. I had to concentrate when interviewing him, since he had already prepared me 3 cocktails before we even started. Let’s meet one of the masterminds behind this incredible concept.
Slava is 48 years old and was born in Baku, Azerbaijan. In 1984 he moved to Moscow and attended college for 3 years. Afterwards, he joined the Russian airborne division for 2 years and was deployed for a short time in the war in Afghanistan before coming back to Moscow in 1988. The next 3 years he lived like a hippie in town and did not really work. In 1991 he started working in a small café. Many casinos were opening up around this time in Moscow. He switched jobs a few times within the casino industry and finally working his way up to bartender and bar manager. One time Slava went to a bar owned by two guys from Latvia and here they mixed cocktails. He was fascinated. The Baltic states were quite different from Russia back then and he realised that they were mixing cocktails he had never seen before. In 1993 he went to work as a bar back for these guys since this place was much more advanced than any of the casinos in town. After a while, he moved to a place called Kakadu; a tiki style bar. The menu had prices listed in Deutsch Mark as it was more stable than the rouble. Slava stayed at Kakadu for about 4 years. One of the Latvians eventually opened a casino style club called Mirage and Slava joined his team as a bar manager. The venue was big and had a concert capacity for up to 1’500 people. It was very famous for jazz music. He learned speed mixing and managed very high volumes. He ended up staying at this place for 2 years. In 1999 both Latvians opened a Mexican restaurant called Pancho Villa where he also met Zhenia, who would become one of the co-owners of Delicatessen. It was the first project where Slava had overall responsibility. He stayed for 2 years and then opened his own place called the Real McCoy. The Real McCoy was a speakeasy style place. This was around the same time that Petraske opened Milk n’ Honey in New York. The Real McCoy functioned more like a club rather than a small bar as it was very hard to run a cocktail bar in Moscow back in 2001. The place was not focused on high end mixology. The clientele was not looking for that. Slava ran this place for 5 years. “I was really focusing on keeping the place afloat.” After 5 years, he was exhausted. He wanted to open a small, laid back restaurant with good food and wine. To experiment, he did some infusions for guests who would drink cocktails and he was the first to do it in Moscow. It was a Spanish place focused on quality. After a while, he felt tired again, and as he had some time he started to experiment more with mixology and eventually decided to open Delicatessen with 4 friends he met along the way: Zhenia, Pablo and Ivan.
The project felt like a dream come true for these 4 friends who could do something for their souls without the need for an investor in the background. All four have their own responsibilities. Their concept is to take on very young staff and give them a chance to learn the hospitality business. Most of the new staff has zero experience and it took them a lot of time in the first years to train all the new members. They now prefer young inexperienced staff as they have so much passion and they had found that the more experienced ones would get lazy at times. Overall they have 14 in their team and it functions a bit like a school. They have more staff than they need, but they want to give young people an opportunity. Many go on the competition circuit later on. Slava says it is not about money as this is not their focus. A person with a stint working at Delicatessen on their resume is well regarded in the scene thanks to its good reputation.
Multiple generations are now working at Delicatessen, Slava, for example, still works on Thursday even though all positions are filled. The place itself is a mix between bistro and English living room. You walk down a few flights of stairs and enter the brightly lit room with the bar. There is no cocktail menu on paper but the staff is eager to help out with recommendations. Besides the cocktails, which are very solid, there is also wine and the food is to die for. The menu changes frequently and you never know what to choose since everything is so delicious and innovative. A very cosy place to stay and enjoy.
He gets inspired by people he meets all around the world. He is part of a big community. Having been in the business so long, he has become a visionary. He knows almost all of the important people in the industry; it is like a big family. Just this year he visited Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans again. Some new ideas always come up. He has a new project in Moscow called “Youth” – a café/bar with 2 floors. There is a lab for bitters, cordials and a solera system. Here he can experiment with his friends and develop new things.
His choice is a Manhattan. He likes whisky but he likes a sweet component with it which could also be PX as in his Pedro Manhattan creation which Delicatessen is also known for. Be sure to try this when visiting the bar.
French 75 in New Orleans. He likes the style and there is an older guy working there which he can relate to. He can smoke inside and he feels very at ease when he is there. It is a traditional place and also holds a lot of New Orleans history.
The future of the bar world
There will be more specialised places. Now bartenders want to find something special for them and reinvent the wheel somehow. We will see more unique concepts as young bartenders will become bar owners. There will be a new vision of simple cocktails.
Advice for opening a bar
Don’t be afraid. Do it! Try it!
It is one big opportunity to do something great. It is his home. His child was born in this city. He has a 24-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old son and his wife was born here too. Sometimes the city can become too much and you need to leave for a while to find some peace. He and his family get “allergic” to Moscow from time to time.
Target in life
Seeing his young staff strive in the cocktail world and having success.
Best decision in life
To marry his wife Alexandra. She is taking very good care of him. She motivates and supports him in all his endeavours.
Images: © Mark Boyarsky