For Mihai Fetcu, life in Romania is going pretty awesome. The Transylvanian-born bartender started blog Bar D.O.M.E., to express his frustrations of the ill-exposed local bar scene, in early 2012. A few years later, it was turned into a bartending course provider. And Mihai? He has just returned from the Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge, receiving third place in the Eastern and Central European district.

Mihai refuses to sit still, diving into a number of new projects, from acting as a senior lecturer at two of the local tourism schools to regularly contributing to a local entertainment editorial 24FUN Brașov. And that is only the beginning. I chatted with Mihai Fetcu to find out more about his humble beginnings, workings and the current problems the Romanian bartending industry is facing.

“There are still so many things to do here and I strongly believe I can help change or be a part of those changes.”
When did your passion for bartending begin and who have been your greatest mentors?

‘It began in 2008 when I was hired at a hotel in the outskirts of Brașov, as a bellboy (I used to carry luggage to people) and I happened to waltz into the hotel’s bar one day. It was a beautifully organised bar, run by a very passionate man named Cristin Mărgărit. Cristin was a living encyclopedia within his field who showed particular interest in its history. Every single day, I tried to stay near the bar as much as I could, to see what he did and how he worked, spurting out a long list of questions for him. Practically, that was my first contact with the bar world and where my interest in bartending was born.

My first and most important mentor was Luca Daniel, who was my teacher at the Brașov School of Tourism. He greatly inspired me, contributing to my newfound love of bartending. Fortunately, through Luca, I met his brother, Valentin. I regard them both as an equal and true representative of the Romanian bar industry.’

Tell us about how Bar D.O.M.E. first came about? What do you want to get out of it? 

‘Bar D.O.M.E. was launched in 2012, appearing as a blog for bartenders in which I expressed my anger, frustrations and bartending shortcomings I perceived within Romania at that time. It was a more turbulent period of both of my personal and professional life and so I set about changing the industry. I realised it was very difficult to accomplish but not impossible. In time, Bar D.O.M.E. has developed into a website and then into a course for passionate bartenders. Bar D.O.M.E.’s mission is to propagate the concept of the perfect bartending culture in Romania.’

There has been a heated national discussion online, arguing about the pay of hospitality industry staff, the prevalence of bartenders with little knowledge but with very high claims, and on the other end, patrons paying too much for incompetent service. How then would you explain the Romanian hospitality industry, it’s culture and current training conditions in your own terms?

‘I have to agree with such statements. This is a dire situation that has lasted for a few years. The current market contains many bartenders who complete a professional training course and believe they know all there is.  But after the first cappuccino or Old Fashioned, you realise the lack of both technical expertise and knowledge limiting their abilities. And given the present staff crisis that was predicted three years ago, which most management blissfully ignored, you now see convenience over quality when it comes to recruitment selection, thus significantly lowering our local industry standards.

The Romanian bartending culture can be disseminated into two parts which are interdependent on each other. One part is directly proportional to the bartenders’ interest: their participation in training, seminars (where brands are increasingly involved) and competitions. The second part relies solely on what the industry provides, therefore how they define and support the cultural scene. Most bars in Romania are disarmed, hosting amateur and unprofessional bartenders who only work to pay for debts, not interested in respecting their craft and developing it further into a career. In brief reflection, Romania in some ways does not compete on the world stage of bartending.

I have travelled extensively throughout Romania and if I were to make a comparison, the numerous bartenders from Brașov show high potential and many also show disinterest. After we implement standards, provide greater support and progressively change the culture, I believe such attitudes will transform. Until then, however, we have a lot of work to do.

Some of our competitions have allowed its organisers to compete, and at times have been highly seated. With this in mind, transparency and integrity are in question. Greater emphasis on event organisation and on the bartenders should be placed, with less focus on brands. The ingredients provided to competitors, competition awards, selection of competitions… there are still many problems to solve. I, myself, have not yet participated in a contest in Romania which is perfect from all points of view.

Regarding local training in the field, if we are talking about the schools approved by the Ministry of Labor- that is to say, the vocational schools of arts and crafts– they are still in the prehistoric age. They have obsolete teaching techniques, terms and materials with no competent and reliable resources to give the right information. We require a complete reform.’

With the local scene as it is now, and greater support both technically and financially abroad, why haven’t you left Romania and expanded your career overseas?

‘There are still so many things to do here and I strongly believe I can help change or be a part of those changes. After we succeed in doing so, maybe I will venture abroad. But until then, I will stay in Romania and be an advocate for cultural reformation within our bartending industry.’

What advice can you give to a bartender, nay a Romanian one?

‘A very good question. I would say not everyone can be a bartender, as they must demonstrate a vast range of qualities and skills (emotions, character, technique, knowledge etc.). Indeed, you must be a great salesman. But also, a leader who contributes to society through his craft, a storyteller and a performer.

There are many things I advise all Romanian bartenders to change but primarily it is their attitude. I strongly suggest to talk less and listen more with deep curiosity and a willingness to learn. They must remember it is 2017 and we are no longer living in the communist era.’

Bar D.O.M.E. is located in Brașov. For more information, visit www.bardome.ro.

Alex Bostan ©

Photo Credits: Mihnea Ratte, Bar D.O.M.E., Max La Rocca, Adi Hadean

“The current market contains many bartenders who complete a professional training course and believe they know all there is.”


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