Bar, který neexistuje (Bar that doesn't exist), Super Panda Circus, Whiskey Bar, který neexistuje (Whiskey Bar that doesn't exist), Slast (Pleasure) and 4 pokoje (Four rooms). Whoever's interested in world-class drinks and bars will appreciate Jan Vlachynský, who founded the aforementioned places together with his partner Andrej Vališ. Two boys who started out at a stand at Zelní trh and now own five bars across Brno.
I don't think twenty years is early. I think I could have started much earlier and for a long time I had the feeling that I should have started much earlier. But there simply weren't many entrepreneurs in our family, so I had to find my way gradually. Today, I feel that people could start a business at fifteen. The sooner the better. I know I wanted to be a scientist when I was about ten.
No. Then I just didn't know what to do. After high school I went to study political science, and it was only because somewhere in high school in the subject civics I started to enjoy it and since I didn't know what to do, I just went for that. But then I found out that I enjoy it, but that I have an awful lot of free time. So I took on the psychology too. At that time, my friend was studying it, he was singing its praises, so I went for it too. These are the less well-thought-out steps of my life.
You started out as two boys in a stand. Turbomošt made you famous. Did you come up with the whole thing yourself, the concept?
It started when we bought apple cider in bottles and tried to sell it in cafes in Brno. We also wanted to break through in Prague, which was not a success. That's when I found out that I don't have much of a business talent, which has stuck with me. But we had the cider that we had fun with, but it wasn't good business, it didn't make money. one of my companions, Andrej Vališ and I have been thinking since we were 18 about what we could do. One of the things was, when a friend told us that there is good money for part-time workers in the Christmas markets, we thought that if they give good pay to part-time workers, they will probably make a lot of money themselves. In October 2009, we set up the stand. In a month, we put together a concept. We had cider and at the same time we knew that people drank alcohol at the market. These were the main points. In the end, it occurred to us that we could put apple liquor in it, and it worked!
Then the stand was not enough for you anymore. And thus came the first bar that didn't exist yet - Bar, který neexistuje (A bar that doesn't exist).
From the beginning, we have been set up to grow and there will be more. One stand was simply not enough for us, so we had three the next year and five the next. We thought we would do stalls in other cities. But at the time, there seemed to be nowhere else to go. So we started looking elsewhere and we wanted to stay in gastronomy. We simply enjoyed that energy, and that's why the "Bar that doesn't exist" happened. Like something we won't have set up for one month, but twelve. When we decided to go for it, we knew we had to be fully in it from day one. People told us it would take half a year for people to get used to going there. But we couldn't afford to pay such high rent and all those people for half a year.
We had very simple marketing. We just said what we were doing. And because of the way we said that, we got a lot of interest from people who started following us and then came. That first day we were a really crappy bar. We didn't know how to do anything, but we were very inspired by America.
In Bar that doesn't exist, one hundred percent, because it's basically a New York bar. If there's such a thing as a New York bar concept, it's this. Then the others are something else. There it varies depending on which direction we fancied at that moment.
But a lot of people tried to discourage you at the beginning, saying that people in the Czech Republic just wouldn't sit at a bar. How did you manage to change this?
We just tried to seat them there. At the beginning, of course, they didn't want to sit there. First, they sat furthest from the bar. Which is paradoxical. We found out that the closer a person is to the bar, the happier they will be and the better experience we can create. There's no way for us to misunderstand each other. So it's good for both parties. We made the bar long on purpose. It occurred to us that it was great to see what the bartenders are doing. For the first two years, people were getting used to it. It's different today. Today, they like to go there because they have realized that it gives it a completely different dimension.
There are largely young and beautiful people in your businesses. Is this your image? Does it matter what they look like?
If I said not at all, it'd be hypocritical. First of all, I must say that I no longer recruit these people. Anyway, it's not like we say we just want blondes or guys here with these parameters, because that's what's right. Not that. But we probably naturally want us to look good. Or them. I'm not standing there, I can look the way I want. The most important thing is really if the person wants to make the other person happy.
You mentioned that you don't stand there, but you used to stand behind the bar. For a while you even worked from 9 AM to 4 AM.
Such a cycle can be managed in the way that Andrej did it, by suffering severe burnout after half a year and thinking that he would never return to work. So I didn't go that far, but I guess I wasn't that far from it. Today, I think it was bullshit. We've been at that job for so long because we needed to prove we had what it took. There was a lot of doubt as to whether this had been a mistake. Wondering if people may find out we don't know what we're doing. Today I enjoy the feeling and I can do a lot more work in less time. Although it's true that the corona made stuff a little hard for me.
The classic things, we deliver, we sell things to go. But it's too much. Our team is very decentralized. Even in the spring, the first reaction was varied. One team wrote a cocktail cookbook. We released it the following month and a thousand copies were sold by the summer. Another team invented a board game, a lot of such trifles, which ultimately lead to more sources of revenue. Online space plays a big role.
At the beginning, when we started, I studied cocktails a lot and I had quite a knowledge of them, but over time I started to lose it again when I found out that there are far more people in the team who understand it better and are more interested in it. But the process is different in each bar. Because we have five establishments, each menu can be created in a different way. Sometimes it will be two, three, four people who get together and work intensely for a month. Other times, twenty people gather and each person makes one drink. There are an awful lot of those variants.
But it's not just about mixing some things. One part is to come up with some nice ingredients and put them together. But it is also necessary to give it some framework, the overall feeling, to create the overall experience and make it make sense. Sometimes it's a menu you have in your hand. Other times it's spread all over the place. The taste is not determined only by the liquid. If I put the same liquid in different vessels, it will taste completely different.
You mentioned five places. Before they were created, did you have target groups in your head? Is each bar a little bit targeted at someone else?
We do not have target groups for two reasons. In general, we do things for ourselves. That's how we enjoy it, this is the thing we're feeling now. And thanks to that, we can do it well, because we are a customer to ourselves and we can evaluate it. The moment we try to do it for someone, it will be unnatural. The second thing is that, in my opinion, those bars are a democratic place that is open to anyone. My ideal guest is a person who can create a mental set up with which they'll visit each of those businesses. Different evening, in a different mood, in a different outfit. Everyone can embody more target groups.
I don't have it defined that way. Each of them is very personal to me. I have the most memories of the Bar that doesn't exist. We spent the most time there, then gradually it got to be less and less. I like that they're different, but I can tune in to each of them and enjoy it. It will just be a different evening every time. One place I'd go to for a date, another one to drink to celebrate the birth of a child.
We did and didn't. Actually, probably not. All our businesses are a maximum of a kilometer apart. So it's tight. It was always something we were afraid of. Rather, we thought about abroad. We flirted with Barcelona, for example. At the moment, however, we have no development plan. This year hurt us a lot financially, so we'll see.
I have to say that I don't go anywhere much anymore. In the first phase of our growth, I felt that bars were supposed to look a certain way and that there was something good and something bad. But today I don't have that feeling at all. I think if something works for someone, it's just fine. It can just be a bad experience from that bar.
There was an article about Brno in the NY Times. This was illustrated by a photo from Bar that doesn't exist. That's a funny story. "That's the bar that was in the Times!" It works terribly well in marketing. We don't really use it because it was a crazy coincidence. The article was about pubs in Brno. They work by sending a journalist here to write an article and then sending a photographer here and telling them to take pictures of the businesses here. And the editor, who has never been to Brno in his life, will choose from those photos what he likes best there. And he happened to choose us. So there could totally have been a completely different business. I find it a little unfair.
I still have it in my head, as my uncle told me, "So you're like selling rum in the town square, and that's your job?" This hotel is a heartfelt project of Adam Vodička, one of the co-founders, who joined us very early on. As to how it came to be, we agreed with the owner of that house that we would create the Pleasure bar there. There was still some free space left, and Adam thought we'd make a hotel there. I felt like we were doing a lot of things at once. But in a few months he told us that he had reached an agreement with the owner and that we were going to do it. We started thinking about what it could all be. Which is what we enjoy the most. Here we were wondering, why does a person usually go to a hotel? They need to sleep somewhere in a city, but we don't enjoy that very much, so we turned it around. What if you went there for what was inside the room? It's definitely a joined experience, like a game. When one can enter a different world. The moment you open that door, you're someone else.
Some time ago, I consciously gave up those great visions of how things can be. Because they should come from the team, and I think that when the boss has them, it can overshadow some visionary creativity that could come from other people. I don't have much ambition or need for something specific. I know we're going to do other things, but I don't know exactly.