“It’s going well, very well, man,” says Larry Soliana at Stirr, a cocktail bar in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
The first-floor bar on Eendrachtsweg, just around the corner from Witte de Withstraat—one of the city’s most popular addresses for nightlife—has got people talking.
The Netherland’s best new bar
“We just got our first award, for best new cocktail bar. We were nominated for the best in the country also,” says the 27-year-old barman with a shrug and explains he’s one of three partners in the business.
The jury that judged the Esquire awards decided unanimously that Stirr was top among the 15 new bars on their national shortlist.
It’s a rainy Monday evening. Other than the small group that I’m part of the bar is empty. Rain streaks the bar’s high windows, blurring streetlamps. It’s barely possible to see Picasso’s vast Sylvette sculpture over on the far side of the Westersingel, the waterway that runs in front of Stirr.
Earlier, I noticed that Stirr’s Facebook page describes the venue as a speakeasy style cocktail bar. That seems spot on—it really can be a tough place to find. In the driving rain, I failed to spot the doorway that leads up to a hip room with exposed brickwork walls.
If this was a weekend we’d have trouble getting to the bar, let alone grabbing a table in a prime location by the window, says the friend who recommended we meet here.
Stirr’s tailor-made cocktails
So what is it that sets Stirr apart from other bars?
“We use a menu but we like to freestyle. That’s our thing—we like to interact with our guests. They tell us what they like and we’ll fix something for them,” says Larry as he delivers a round of cocktails to our table.
“Every time it’s a surprise and people seem to like it,” he adds in the matter-of-fact tone that I like about the straight-talking Netherlands.
“Normally you get a menu with, like, 50 cocktails and people can make a choice. Now—with the right words and interactions and explanations—we create something tailor-made. That’s our concept,” he says.
Sipping a Botanical Bourbon
On the rare occasions that I order a cocktail, it’s common for me to choose a cachaça-based Caipirinha, Brazil’s national drink, or a gin and tonic. Tonight, I’ve given Larry a free hand he’s mixed me one of his signature cocktails, a Botanical Bourbon.
“The ingredients are bourbon, a Lady Grey tea infusion, Fernet Branca liqueur, pomegranate-basil spiced syrup, lemon juice, egg white and aromatic bitters,” he explains when I express pleasure at his creation. It tastes as good as it looks.
“They call me the garnish king,” says Larry when I comment on the impressive presentation of his cocktails.
The career of a barman
Larry began his career in the hospitality business seven years ago, washing dishes in a Mexican restaurant. He progressed to the bar, mixing margaritas and mojitos, before moving on.
Over the course of the next four years he learnt his trade mixing drinks at Elit, under Erikson Almeida Lima, who now runs the cocktail bar Noah, at the Oude Haven.
From there Larry moved to Café LaBru (Hartmansstraat 18a), a cocktail bar known for its broad selection of gins: “We experimented there, made cocktails and, from there on, got the idea to open our own bar and to start working for ourselves.”
Self-made men and ingredients
The team at Stirr use premium brands and make their own bitters, syrups and liqueurs: “We try to make them all ourselves.”
“We’re not looking like bartenders out of the 80s or 90s,” says Larry, who is wearing a T-shirt.
“We play hip hop music from the 80s until now, from old school to new school,” he adds wagging a finger upwards, to where I presume the amplifier must be located.
“We get a lot of expats. We get a lot of tourists. We get a lot of people who know what they are drinking,” explains Larry.
When he’s not working, he’d go for a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned.
“I like boozy drinks,” he admits, “I like vermouths, rye whiskeys and bourbons. I like to drink straight up things and sours.”
“You can ask for something different and we’ll try and make it for you,” says Larry then heads back behind the bar.
Stirr is at Eendrachtsweg 29B in central Rotterdam. It is closed on Tuesdays.
Photos illustrating this post are by Stuart Forster.
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