Bartender Profile: Luke Hanzlicek

He’s shaken and stirred with Dita Von Teese and Alfred Cointreau and won a prestigious bartending competition. Presenting Chartreuse Chevalier, Luke Hanzlicek of The Victoria Room.

Luke Hanzlicek
Chevalier Luke Hanzlicek at The Victoria Room – Photo © by Kevin Burke for Gourmantic

Tell us a little about yourself, your family and where you grew up.
My older sister and I were born in Melbourne, then when I was at the age of 6, our family moved North when my father was transferred for work. I spent my teenage years in in Winston Hills and at the age of 18 moved out of home and into Lane Cove.

How did you get started in bartending?
At the age of 18 I was working as assistant manager of a Liquorland and by 19 had taken up nightclub bartending on the weekends. I left Liquorland shortly after and began working for McWilliams Wines as a merchandising rep before giving that up completely to focus on bartending.

Tell us a little about your bartending career.
I started off doing nightclub bar work. My first venue was Pontoon and on weekends I was supervising Wallaby Bar. After that I went to work at Dome in Surry Hills. I spent 8 months there to save money to go backpacking through Europe with some friends from high school. Upon returning to Australia I began work at Cruise Restaurant in Circular Quay. The team we had at the time was amazing and we won the AHA Best Restaurant in the state and then national, the next year we won best fine dining restaurant in the AHA state awards.

From Cruise I went to work at a little wine bar in Potts Point called Aperitif where I spent 1 year and learnt from some great people. From there I went to Longrain in Surry Hills where I started as a bartender and shortly after became bar supervisor. After applying for 3 years to work at The Victoria Room, I finally got the call in for a trial and was offered a full time job by the end of the weekend. Under the watchful eye of Lee Potter-Cavanagh and Jess Arnott I was trained up to be bar supervisor and then bar manager.

You’ve won some prestigious awards and competitions in your time…
In my time at the Victoria Room, we have won many awards including; 2011 Best Marketed Venue and Best Drink Selection at the Bar Awards, Best Cocktail Bar at the 2012 Time Out Awards and in 2012 I was nominated for ‘Hot Talent’ in the Time Out Awards. I have participated in State finals for Havana Club Grand Prix and the Wild Turkey Cocktail Challenge. In 2012, I came second in the Chartreuse Chevalier Australia comp and the year after I took the crown away from Melbourne when I won the Chevalier comp.

You’re one of the Chartreuse Chevaliers in Australia. How does one get awarded the title?
In the world, I am no. 2500 in the Chevalier ranks. I was the 5th to win it through the Chevalier comp but there have been other honorary invites such as the one gifted to Australia’s Chartreuse Ambassador, Nathan ‘Stretch’ Bradbery.

What does it mean to you being a Chartreuse Chevalier?
I felt extremely honored to be announced as a Chevalier as it is a very prestigious group. It was a really long competition so by the end of it I was very relieved to have won it after coming second the year before.

What is your most memorable bartending experience to date?
Some of the teams I have worked with have shown me the best times of my life. My team at VR is absolutely amazing and they are always there to join in on some inappropriate jokes with me. Coming second and then first in the Chartreuse Chevalier comp will be forever in my mind and while after the first year got a bit hazy when we made our way to the Baxter Inn, there is a special spot on the carpet reserved for Andy Buntine forever!

Making cocktails with Dita Von Teese and Alfred Cointreau was a lot of fun as well as doing some private bartending for Kanye, Jay Z and Beyonce while they were recording ‘Watch the Throne’. Also busting out Sake cocktails for Bono and the Edge while girls flocked around them was pretty interesting. Finally, probably not one of my finest moments but bartending at a swingers party was good for a giggle… somehow people were ordering and consuming drinks in the middle of their “business”… I don’t think I have ever washed my hands that many times in one night!

Who has been an influence or a source of inspiration to you?
Working with Lee Potter and Jess Arnott made me a much better bartender in a very short amount of time. The new owners of the Victoria Room injected a lot of passion into the venue, which made the entire team a lot more enthusiastic to be at work. Jimmy Irvine from Hinky Dinks always puts a smile on my face when I’m feeling down so I think his incredible chat deserves a mention.

What are some of the challenges you face as a bartender?
Working the ridiculous hours that I do can be a bit of a challenge when it comes to staying chirpy, fortunately though, I have an Espresso machine only a few steps away. However, that leads to another challenge… managing shaky hands after a few double espressos.

What are your favourite ingredients that define your style of cocktail?
It’s no secret that I love Chartreuse and Whiskies. I tend to mainly make boozy stirred down cocktails or drinks on the sour side.

What excites you about the Sydney bar scene?
The Sydney bar scene is changing pretty much every week. I love the quality of new venues opening up and the community mentality driven by Sydney’s bartenders. Being able to run over to a nearby venue to borrow stock, perishables, ice etc and also be gifted a shot is pretty awesome.

Is there anything about the Sydney bar scene that you’d like to see change?
I would love to see more people going out during the week to make it worthwhile for all these new bars. It’s not easy for venues to survive when all of the income is generated on Friday and Saturday nights.

How do you see the Sydney bar scene evolving in the near future?
As much as I love all the themed bars I can see that trend becoming less popular in the coming years. The growth and quality of CBD bars has really taken off and I can see that booming even more in the coming years.

What cocktail trends or spirits interest you at the moment?
Japanese Whisky is probably my flavour of the month. I have been partaking in quite a few Hakushu Distillers Release on the rocks recently. Good times indeed! I have also been making a lot of Oleo Saccharum recently to use every part of the citrus. Cellared milk punch is also delicious, I made one with Green Chartreuse and it worked a treat.

When you’re not behind the bar, what do you like to drink?
I will usually have a beer and a shot of Whisky when I’m sitting at someone else’s bar. At home I always have a bottle of Becherovka and a bottle of Chartreuse stored in the freezer to unwind with after a long shift.

And finally, is there a special cocktail of your creation that you’d like to share with Gourmantic?
I made a cocktail recently then spent weeks googling the ingredients to see if it already existed but couldn’t find a similar recipe. It’s called “The Double Windsor” (not named after the bar in Brooklyn):

Glass- Double Old Fashioned
Garnish- Orange twist (discard)
Ingredients- 45mL Bulleit Rye, 15mL Amaro Averna, 1bsp Fernet Branca
Method- Stir all ingredients over a massive block of ice. twist an orange peel over the top of the glass, wipe it around the lip of the glass (or rim if you prefer) then discard the twist. Too easy!

The Bartender Profile series continues next week.

About the author

Corinne Mossati

Corinne Mossati is a drinks writer, author of GROW YOUR OWN COCKTAIL GARDEN, SHRUBS & BOTANICAL SODAS and founder/editor of Gourmantic, Cocktails & Bars and The Gourmantic Garden. She has been writing extensively about spirits, cocktails, bars and cocktail gardening in more recent years. She is a spirits and cocktail competition judge, Icons of Whisky Australia nominee, contributor to Diageo Bar Academy, cocktail developer and is named in Australian Bartender Magazine's Top 100 Most Influential List. Her cocktail garden was featured on ABC TV’s Gardening Australia and has won several awards. She is a contributor to Real World Gardener radio program and is featured in several publications including Pip Magazine, Organic Gardener, Australian Bartender and Breathe (UK). Read the full bio here.