Interview with Micke Karlsson - Marie Laveau/Little Quarter

The New Orleans-inspired restaurant and bar Marie Laveau, together with its second bar Little Quarter, are two of the most popular watering holes among Stockholm's discerning drinkers, and three days ago they won the "bar concept of the year" award at Restauranggalan 2011 - congratulations! A few days earlier, I did this interview with bar manager Micke Karlsson - one of the many skilled bartenders who studied at the renowned International Bar Management program in Nyköping.

What made you pursue a career in bartending?

The fact that I found out that this can be a "real" job and still be amazingly fun.

What do you think about the International Bartender Management education?

It is a great education that is getting better by the year. Hans Bihl is a fantastic, inspiring man and he's doing a great job. When it comes to producing hungry, well educated new bartender material IBM has no competition.

Photo © Jimmy Hansen
When and how did you get your first bartender job?

In 2003, in Nyköping. They were looking for staff, I needed cash.

Where have you worked prior to Marie Laveau/Little Quarter and which place has been most important regarding your knowledge and skills?

At most of the not so fancy nightclubs in Nyköping, moved to Stockholm about three and a half years ago and have since then worked at F12 Terrassen, Collage, Kåken/1900, Orangeriet and Marie Laveau. Collage was a great place to meet industry people, Andres León was the bar manager, M2, Åsa Nevestveit and so on. Knowledge and skills are always developing, but working at Little Quarter, with Jimmy Dymott, Joel Söderbäck and Andreas Bergman is the best. We´re constantly learning from each other, while having fun.

What is your favourite and least favourite drink to make and why?

To make a labour consuming drink for someone who isn´t going to appreciate it sucks. I like making fizzes and Old Fashioneds.

Do you have a favourite kind of customer?

Nice people. With a smile and a thank you, you get really good service from me. With a sour face you get nowhere. I think that service goes both ways, if you´re out for a good night, I can make it great.

What do you like most about your job?

Meeting people, making drinks, working with good friends, chatting about nonsense, cutting ice, drinking coffee, the afterwork beer and counting the money after a good nights shift.

Do you have any special strengths or weaknesses as a bartender?

I think my strengths are that I like my job and I want to take care of people. I can be very moody, so sometimes innocent guest may suffer from the behavior of a previous guest. That´s bad. I´m sorry.

What do you like to drink when off duty?

There´s a time and a place, but if I go out for cocktails there´s a chance that I ask for American whiskey.

What upcoming cocktail trends do you think we can expect in the near future?

Hopefully more concept bars in Stockholm.

Which are your favourite bars/bartenders and why?

I love Dutch Kills in New York. Abraham and Richie over there are great bartenders and great people. Cure in New Orleans is nice, and Callooh Callay in London, where my friend Victor works is also very nice. In Stockholm there are a lot of my friends that makes fantastic drinks and takes really good care of me.

What do you think about the currect cocktail scene in Stockholm and Sweden, and how does it compare internationally?

There are some really good bartenders in Stockholm, they can definitely match, for instance, New York or London's finest.

What about spirits and cocktails inspires you?

That spirits are very versatile, when mixing two pretty bad things you can end up with something awesome. And you get instant results and feedback, with the guests sitting in front of you.

How do you choose the cocktails for the menus at Marie Laveau/Little Quarter?

Mostly we read old books, looking for good recipes. Then we tweak them a bit, to suit our palate. Me and Jimmy think very alike when we look at recipes so now we can remake the blackboard almost without talking about the drinks. Sometimes we make theme drink menus, like the savoy-list or the Bourbon Heritage list. And some of the cocktails are our own creations or variations on classic drinks. It´s great to work with new menus every two or three weeks, keeps you focused and our regulars always have something new to try.

Which of your signature drinks and what else in your career are you most proud of so far?

I don´t really have any signature drinks. Most proud of being where I am today, working at a great place with great people.

What do you think about cocktail competitions and have you competed in any?

Competitions can be fun and inspiring, but I´m not that competitive. Finished third in Absolut Invite, and think I was runner up in Cocktailkampen with Rhys Vickery.

Where do you see yourself in five years from now?

Hardest question so far. Time will tell.

Do you think bartenders get the recognition they deserve?

Getting better and better, but how much recognition do we need? It´s nice when people see and appreciate that you´re putting in the effort but I´m happy making money from something that I love to do.

Would you like to share one of your own recipes?

Little Quarter
40 ml Rye
40 ml Gin
1 sugar cube
Orange Bitters
Angostura Bitters

Soak the sugar cube with both bitters, crush it with a little soda water in a highball glass, add spirits and stir with ice until desired temperature and dilution. Strain into an old-fashioned glass with one large ice cube, finish with orange zest.

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