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Susana Wichels is a journalist and researcher at Coimbra's University.

The scent of a bar

A chat with Joaquim Veras, the gentleman of national cocktail-making and VILA VITA Parc's very own head bartender.

The first thing that strikes us about Joaquim Veras is the passionate glint in his eyes when he speaks about bartending. The second is the never-ending stories, the stories of someone who has spent a lifetime behind a bar.

We are chatting at the Oasis Bar, VILA VITA Parc's main bar located near to the reception. The dark wood-clad walls, the classic décor and the comfortable sofas and armchairs give us the impression of being in an old-fashioned British gentlemen's club. It's a bar that changes with the seasons: on cold winter nights, the room is warmed by a log fire while guests chat over a drink, while summer nights beg for an al fresco cocktail on the outdoor terrace, affording views of the gardens and the fountains, with the Atlantic Ocean providing the perfect backdrop.

For Joaquim Veras, mixologist by trade and by passion, the bar is the beating heart of the hotel, the very essence of the resort. All the different pieces of the puzzle fit in a hotel bar, the different personal stories of each guest. And it is in the Oasis Bar that, according to Veras, part of the identity of VILA VITA Parc is distilled, a meeting point for guests but also a meeting point for each individual. More than a barman, Joaquim Veras takes on the role of an informal psychologist who also has extensive knowledge in the art of mixology.

He has been on the other side of the bar since the age of 15. For Veras, the bar has its own scent; a mixture of spices that emanate from the myriad bottles and ethylic solutions that blend in the air like magic potions.

"The dream begins in the bar."
Joaquim Veras, bartender

How is the scent of a bar like?

A bar is a scene with various actors, where “the barman improvises without a script”, admits the mixologist. For Joaquim Veras, what appeals most to him in his bar is the sweet scent of spices and rum. A hotel bar is that legendary place where stories unravel, the setting of a very unique lifestyle where a cocktail or a drink is the thread of conversation and a bridge between people. Over the course of Joaquim's 22-year career, he has experienced and witnessed countless human stories, from the conciliation of a broken marriage to actual marriage proposals.

Guests strike up conversations with Joaquim, who knows when to listen and when to speak. Back in their native countries, some guests send him postcards, photos and emails. “I even received a photo of a baby. The client found out he was going to be a father right here at my bar,” he says with the emotion of someone for whom this is more than a job; it's a lifelong commitment.

To break the ice, Joaquim Veras prepared a cold green tea infused with hibiscus flower. A glass bottle with a reddish liquid with yellow tones appears at the table, at the bottom of which is the preserved scarlet flower. As he pours the ruby tea into the cup, the tea's aromas are released, with the smell of hay, freshly cut grass and the floral notes of the hibiscus. According to Veras, personalised teas are one of the current trends in mixology and which are prepared according to the moment and the person's mood.

 

Joaquim Vera´s first recommendation: cold green tea fusion blended with hibiscus flower.
Joaquim Vera´s first recommendation: cold green tea fusion blended with hibiscus flower.

 

There are many labels to define the bartending profession: mixologist, bartender or even barista for those specialised in the art of coffee-making. Veras can relate to the concept of mixology, which implies the art of creating drinks, an addiction founded on the discovery of new flavours and experiences.

In the day-to-day running of things, Joaquim Veras strives to convey more than just the mixology recipes to his team; he transmits the essence of the profession: client empathy. According to the professional, the perfect formula for a good mixologist involves the combination of a special personality, knowledge of the products and their history, and a knack for mixing flavours and aromas, whether they're conventional or more unusual.

“The bar is where the dream begins” - just another of Veras' poetic descriptions of his passion and his workplace. It is in a bar that a couple mentally prepares for a gastronomic experience ahead with a pre-dinner drink, and where they end the night with pleasant conversation, aiding digestion with a good cocktail or a fortified tipple.

A long career behind the bar

Veras was just 15 when he began working behind the bar at Sir Harry's, the legendary English bar in Albufeira. “At that time, gentlemen wore a suit and tie to go out. I'll never forget that era of glamour and elegance,” he recalls.

The first element that fascinated him in a bar wasn't even the collection of drinks, but rather the glass etiquette, with their different shapes, sizes and uses: “The transparencies hypnotised me from a young age and the art of choosing the right glass greatly enhances the drink.” Then came the in-depth knowledge of the products, the liqueurs, the fortified drinks, the bitters, the gins and the whiskies, by avidly reading specialist magazines collected by one of his uncles, also a professional bartender.

Having already cut his teeth in the profession, Joaquim Veras went on to enrol in the professional waiting and bartending course at Faro Hotel School. He is still friends with several colleagues from “the old school of Algarve cocktail-making”: those who trained in bartending and who, like Joaquim, worked from the bottom up, “from the simple replenishment of the ice machine to later making a signature cocktail”.

Today, after two decades of the utmost commitment to the world of bartending at Vila Vita Parc, Joaquim Veras is entering the golden age of his profession, combining vast knowledge with years of experience. Besides the in-house training he provides for his team members, Veras is also a speaker in hospitality schools and is a judge in the “Barman of the Year” competition.

With the conversation wrapping up, Joaquim gets up from his chair and returns to behind the bar. He leaves the theory to one side and moves on to the empirical art of mixology. He prepares a special cocktail for me, the Serra Sour, a reflection of the new trends that incorporates unusual ingredients, usually more suited to the kitchen than to the bar. Serra Sour is a cocktail created by Joaquim Veras that comprises an eclectic blend of Algarvean liqueurs, such as almond liqueur and medronho firewater, a touch of sugar, lemon and lime juice, egg white and bitter chocolate.

The rim of the glass is dipped in Nutella and topped with fried onion. The appearance is surprising, which, I admit, I look at quite suspiciously: you wouldn't usually think of a marriage between chocolate and onion. In the mouth, the unusual flavours are a welcome surprise and the result is very pleasing indeed. It's worth trying; this one or any other signature cocktail available at the Oasis Bar.

 

Second recommendation: "Serra Sour".
Second recommendation: "Serra Sour".

 

Serra Sour: Nutella and fried onion in a cocktail? Sounds strange... but you will only find out if you try it...  personally i liked it and recommend it!
Serra Sour: Nutella and fried onion in a cocktail? Sounds strange, but you will only find out if you try it... personally I liked it and recommend it!

 

Mixology trends, according to Joaquim Veras:

  • personalised teas;
  • aged cocktails (cocktails made with fortified wines);
  • cocktails with unusual culinary products.

 

Joaquim Veras poses with bar's menu. It's not a compact list, but rather a lifestyle book. Several pages include more than three hundred references, from ports and liqueurs, national and imported gins, whiskeys, champagnes, classic cocktails, innovative cocktails, coffees and teas. Within this menu-book you will find proposals for any time of the day.
Joaquim Veras poses with bar's menu. It's not a compact list, but rather a lifestyle book. Several pages include more than three hundred references, from ports and liqueurs, national and imported gins, whiskeys, champagnes, classic cocktails, innovative cocktails, coffees and teas. Within this menu-book you will find proposals for any time of the day.

 

Fortified cocktails, at Oasis Bar in VILA VITA Parc
Fortified cocktails, at Oasis Bar in VILA VITA Parc

 

One of Joaquim Vera's suggestions: Hibiki, or the art of Japanese whisky.
One of Joaquim Vera's suggestions: Hibiki or the art of Japanese whisky.

 

Joaquim Veras poses with the bar menu. It's not a condensed list, but rather a lifestyle book. Several pages include more than 300 references, from ports and liqueurs to national and imported gins, whiskies, champagnes, classic cocktails, innovative cocktails, coffees and teas. In this book/menu, you will find an option for any time of the day.

Where shall we go today? The bar safari at Vila Vita Parc

Besides the Oasis, Vila Vita's flagship bar, there are many options to discover during your stay. At the Delfim Bar, located within the Health Club, guests can find tisanas, health drinks, and detox and energy juices, ideal to complement a workout or to chill out with by the pool.

At the Aladin Bar, mixologist João Severino and his team await you with sophisticated cocktail options for glamour-filled nights. This is the perfect setting to enjoy a signature cocktail, particularly after a gourmet meal at the Ocean restaurant.

The Garden Bar, located on the lawn of the Residence, offers a bar with a sea-view backdrop. Head bartender Joaquim Veras recommends trying a lemonade with mint while looking out towards the horizon.

In the Clubhouse building we can find the tropical Pool Bar, protected by the generous shade of a giant parasol and a favourite spot for families. One of the main features of this Pool Bar is being able to enjoy a drink while sitting in the pool itself.

The Moorish-inspired Manzar provides a terrace conceived to make the most of the sunset. The décor is evocative of Arabian Nights, with its Moroccan seats and comfy poufs, steel gazebos, lamps and rugs. Alongside traditional drinks, guests can sample the authentic Arabic mint tea or relax with the mesmerising smoke of the shisha. There is also a good gin and tonic list, another ideal accompaniment for enjoying the pink skies at the end of the day.

The Palm Bar, next to the large pool, offers drinks and Asian-inspired snacks, as well as healthy options to enjoy throughout the day.

Bica Café is dedicated, of course, to coffee, with barista Jorge Cans the specialist in drinks with coffee, milk and chocolate. There are traditional Portuguese pastries and regional sweets, as well as a careful selection of typical products.