One evening in 2008, Adam Slavík was sipping an Almond Cigar—a bright amaretto, rum and lime concoction—at Bugsy’s Bar in Prague, when he was struck by an idea for a book. Although he had penned a guide to the city’s best bars five years earlier, this time around he was envisioning something more ambitious.
Slavík, who grew up in Havlíčkův Brod, a small town some 90 minutes southeast of the Czech Republic’s animated capital, was “always drawn to the center of events, the big city where culture lives,” he says. Prague’s booming cocktail scene was intrinsic to that allure.
In particular, he was enthralled by Bugsy’s, a swanky, pioneering lounge that debuted in 1995, a heady era of newly introduced post-communist bliss. At the time, most carefree locals and curious tourists hightailed it to beer bars. Bugsy’s profusion of classic Gimlets and Old-Fashioneds stood out. Slavík paid his first visit as a university student. “The atmosphere, the phenomenal cocktails and the personality of the owner, Václav Vojíř—it was a bar concert,” he says of the sensory appeal.
Buoyed by the magical aura of that night at Bugsy’s 15 years ago, Slavík decided to pay homage to the talents like Vojíř by releasing an ever-changing book that, he hoped, would make its way around the globe. At each stop, he imagined that a bartender would submit an original recipe and perhaps a missive, then pass it along to the next bartender of their choosing.
An ordinary journal would not suffice, however. Slavík desired a dignified, majestic tome, one that would wear well through the ages and withstand frequent international sojourns. To create the bespoke book, he worked with the renowned bookbinder Jiří Fogl, who passed away in 2022, to design a Cognac-hued leather beauty filled with 333 pages (a nod to the Czech tongue twister referencing 333 silver syringes squirting over 333 silver roofs) of handmade paper produced at a late 16th-century Czech mill. Slavík called it The Bartenders’ Travelling Book.
“One bartender might attach an additional letter peppered with insights; another a postcard from a meaningful location, imbuing [it] with a certain compelling enigma that is not unlike that of the boomerang.”
In May 2009, Slavík presented it to Vojíř, its inaugural recipient. Vojíř added a personal note and cocktail recipe. He then traveled to Munich to pass the book along to Charles Schumann, of Schumann’s, at the time a revered bartender; he has since been mired in controversy after a string of sexist remarks.
Since then, the book has taken the scenic route around the world. While most of its pages remain blank, the rest are dominated by the distinctive scrawls of some 30 industry luminaries, including Julio Bermejo, Julio Cabrera, Javier de las Muelas, Erik Lorincz, Kazuo Uyeda and Stanislav Vadrna. (As of now, it’s a boys’ club; it has yet to make its way to a more diverse group of bartenders, but hopefully that will change as the book continues to circulate.) Rules are few, but taken seriously. No one, for example, is allowed to post a photograph of another person’s page or reveal content that isn’t their own without asking. One bartender might attach an additional letter peppered with insights; another a postcard from a meaningful location, imbuing The Bartenders’ Travelling Book with a certain compelling enigma that is not unlike that of the boomerang. Those drinks, often shots, accompanied by a message, are brought from one bartender’s establishment to another’s as a token of respect, and are also cloaked in secrecy.
“It is one of the coolest projects I’ve experienced in my entire career,” says Giancarlo Mancino, the visionary behind Mancino Vermouth. He was invited into the book’s pages by Bacardí alum David Cordoba, aka “Mr. Daiquiri,” now founder of The Lovers and La Forza rums. Flipping through the pages, seeing contributions from the late Gary “Gaz” Regan and Salim Khoury (the former head bartender at The American Bar inside London’s Savoy Hotel), was especially emotional for Mancino. The book made its way to him during the height of the pandemic, and he kept it in his possession for one and a half years, waiting for the right opportunity to give it a new home.
“I wanted to pass it off to Salvatore Calabrese, my mentor,” he recalls. In late 2021, knowing that fellow bartenders would be in London for the World’s 50 Best Bars award, Mancino orchestrated a small gathering of them at The Donovan Bar, where Calabrese holds court these days. The attendees, including Peter Dorelli, Giuliano Morandin, Alessandro Palazzi, Agostino Perrone, Jared Brown and Ian Burrell conversed and drank aperitivi while the book made the rounds.
“It now has a sparsely populated Instagram account, its own website and an email address, but its keepers are adamant about its contents remaining free of a digital footprint.”
The book also reached the United States—and got lost for a spell, too. Not long after The Dead Rabbit opened in New York City’s Financial District in 2013, Simon Ford, of Fords Gin fame, left the book with co-owners Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon (the latter is no longer part of the bar), who eventually sent it over to Jim Meehan at PDT. McGarry is still impressed by the book’s significance. “It’s an incredible link and resource, perpetually spreading throughout the cocktail world,” he says. “It contains information, advice and recipes from bartending icons, some of whom have left us.”
Simone Caporale, co-founder of Sips Drinkery House in Barcelona, is the book’s current keeper. Despite the plethora of cocktail reading material out there, none holds a candle to The Bartenders’ Travelling Book, he says. “It has become a bible.” Its presence, he adds, is especially poignant in today’s chaotic digital world, where human relationships are often sidelined. “[It’s] timeless, it helps to remind us of certain things, like the aging of a spirit, that are not meant to be fast.”
Helping to ensure the book maintains momentum is William Pravda, general manager at The Hudson Rooms, the rooftop bar at the Capella Hanoi hotel in Vietnam. Like Slavík, Pravda is a native of the Czech Republic, and Slavík, impressed by Pravda’s dedication to the industry and commitment to teamwork, appointed him the book’s custodian, “to give it a bit of structure, purpose and publicity,” recounts Pravda.
What does the role of “custodian” actually entail? Last year, Pravda flew all the way to Bar Convent in Berlin to bring it from the bar of Serhan Kusaksizoglu, aka Papa Charly, the corporate director of bars and concepts at Kempinski Hotels, directly to Caporale. (Kusaksizoglu was in Asia at the time.) Pravda and Slavík have also developed a programming plan to ease the book into the limelight, while preserving its original mission. It now has a sparsely populated Instagram account, its own website (which is apparently undergoing a redesign) and an email address, but its keepers are adamant about its contents remaining free of a digital footprint. In fact, when I asked Pravda if I could merely have the names of the featured drink recipes, he refused to tell me. “There should be some mystery around it,” he says.