One could say Dirk Hany is a friend of the house. He’s been a superstar in our deluxe bar team at both the 2014 and 2016 Havana Club Grand Prix and he’s worked as a Havana Club ambassador in Switzerland. And yet, oddly enough, in the years we’ve been working on BarNews, we’ve never sat down with Dirk to learn more about his career as a star bartender. Since the end of 2016 brought great changes to the life of our favourite Swiss of German language, we figured it was about time.
Dirk Hany has been working in the industry since he was a teenager. A product of the prestigious hospitality schools of Switzerland, he could easily have become a headwaiter, a sommelier or a chef but he took another road: “I realized very early that I was more attracted to liquid gastronomy than normal gastronomy”, he told us. While a student, he also spent some months working in France, at two very different bars. One was the Ayers Rock Bar in Montpellier, a flair bartending establishment with a strong student clientele. The second was much more prestigious, but not necessarily more rewarding: Cannes’ Martinez hotel. The fun of a dive bar and the attention to details of a palace – as good way as any to sum up Dirk’s philosophy.
After graduation, he settled in Baden, a famous spa destination near Zurich. He quickly made a name for himself, being picked as Switzerland’s best bartender in 2008. This drew a lot of attention, not least from brands looking for ambassadors. And that’s how Dirk got to work on Absolut Vodka and Havana Club. This could have been the end of the story: many bartenders want to become ambassadors, few ambassadors are ready to return to bartending. In Dirk case, things were a little bit different: “I’ve always loved bartending. Even working for a brand, I was always behind the bar at events, that’s what I wanted to do”. Still, it came as a surprise when he decided to return to active duty, so to speak, in late 2013. “People thought I was crazy, giving up a job that I loved”, he remembers. His name still meant something, and when the Widder Hotel went looking for a bartender to take over their bar program, he was seen as a natural fit. “I think they liked that I was well-travelled and knew all sorts of bars. They wanted someone who could bring something different”. And so he did: probably remembering how boring the bar of a luxury hotel could be from his time at the Martinez, it was decided very early on that Widder Bar should be special. “Yes, it’s a 5-star hotel, but we kept things cheeky. Even the music: we have live concerts, and sometimes the artists are not what you’d expect in such a place. We really wanted to give guests an experience that would not remind them they were in a hotel – in fact, since we have a separate entrance, many didn’t even make the connection”.
And while many hotel bars have career bartenders who have been there for decades, Dirk’s team was made of young guns who had to earn their stripes. “We changed the menu very regularly and I wasn’t creating the cocktails. They had to do it, working with seasonal products, which is not always easy here. I wanted to school them and help them become as good as they could – and I was proud when they left because it meant they’d go on to even better things.” The hard work everyone put in the project was awesomely repaid in nominations and awards. The one Dirk feels most proud about is Best Bar at the Mixology Awards last year. “To be on stage with half my team (the other half had to work!) was such an amazing feeling. Our job’s a team game. I was so proud of what we had accomplished”.
Up there, Dirk knew what few people in the room did: the experience was coming to an end. The Widder Hotel is about to undergo extensive refurbishments and Dirk thought it was time to go and look for something else. “I loved my time there, and everybody knows that. But I’m young and I wasn’t ready to settle for life in one job”. He is now… back at Pernod Ricard, where he will be working with their luxury clients. Knowing Dirk, this is not the last the bar world’s heard of him. Although it’s time to devote more time to family, he still has bartending in his heart. Don’t be surprised if, a few years down the line, he ends up opening his own bar. It is, after all, the only thing he hasn’t done yet…