Tasting the world at home with Patrick Pistolesi

Patrick Pistolesi at Drink Kong in Rome
Patrick Pistolesi at Drink Kong in Rome

Editorial Manager

One of the joys of travel is the rush of emotion a simple memory can evoke of previous experiences. We have a number of visual mementos we often look back on for the most obvious example of this, but sounds and scents also provide a similar effect. For me, though, the distinctive flavours certain places serve up inspire the most vivid recollections. Here’s how Patrick Pistolesi has scoured the world to bring home a taste of incredible drinks he’s tried on his travels. Explore Rome and other Italian cities with Culture Trip’s Classic Italy trip. Find out more about the country and pick from our curated small-group itineraries.

Ron Santiago de Cuba is just one example of a drinks synonymous with its place of origin. Rum has a storied past in Cuba, and many cocktails have also emerged from there in recent years. Using premium products like this, master mixologist Patrick Pistolesi has created a series of pre-mixed drinks that can be delivered straight to your home.

As the owner of Drink Kong, one of the 20 best bars in the world, Pistolesi is the perfect person to tell us about Nio Cocktails, international drinks trends and finding inspiration in unlikely places.

‘Drink Kong will have its fifth anniversary in September (2023) and i’ve been in this industry for more than 25 years’, Patrick tell Culture Trip on his recent visit to London. ‘When I opened my bar is was always a dream and came after a period of travelling all around the country. I’ve always done that and when the internet took off, it became really important to do that. We’re based in Roma, and I have a deep love for the city. It has tradition and if you go past the tourist places you can find the real sense of the place. The food is amazing, the weather is amazing, the sights are amazing. It can also be a mess too!’

Drink Kong in Rome

Drink Kong has won a number of accolades in recent years and has a great reputation among discerning travellers and locals alike. As someone who has travelled extensively too, its fascinating to find out more about how this aspect of Patrick’s past has influenced what he is working on now. As the co-owner and co-founder of NIO, a company that sends out ready-mixed cocktails in convenient packages for home use, Pistolesi isn’t afraid to take risks.

‘When I started bar-tending was a hard profession to explain. People would always ask what I studied, and I would say ‘bar-tending’. Now people get it, but at the time that was tough. I want to put Rome on the map and also create a safe job for people who work with me. I actually started as an actor, but like everything it takes time. This gave me some comfort and allowed me to travel too.’

Rome is obviously the place Patrick calls home, but as we are talking to him on the eve of a decisive game in the Six Nations, he tells us that he potentially has split loyalties. ‘My mum is Irish and my father is Italian. I drink like an Irishman and eat like an Italian!’

We’re not entirely sure, but it seems like a slight Irish accent pops into the conversation from here on in. It probably is just us though.

‘If I travel to a place,’ Patrick continues, ‘I am always curious about the drinks scene. New bars, ingredients and techniques is inspirational to me. If I go somewhere outside of Europe, like Asia or South America, there is so much to see and experience. The people are curious about us there, but we are also interested in them. You go to Japan and you see how the guys there are crushing it. Last year I travelled for 220 days, and that can be exhausting. Sometimes you get less than two days in a place, and that can be a drag.’

There’s a real craft behind creating new drinks and perfecting classic cocktails. It comes down to experience ‘and some practice’ which is part of the process at Drink Kong. ‘It has to be either exploration or evocation. You taste something that is new and like it, or taste something you’ve had before and it reminds you of something from the past. You always have to get someone else to taste is because it needs that interpretation too. In Asia you don’t add sugar, because that sweetness is like poison there. In India, however its whisky that they love. You get to know this by travelling there.’

Patrick with his latest creation

One of Patrick’s signature cocktails and one he himself is very proud of is the Mare Nostrum. ‘Its the old Roman name for the Mediterranean Sea, and in the drink we have thyme, rosemary, basil, black olives and lemon peels. This is the scents and flavours that teleport you right there. There’s also storytelling involved too, so I can tell you that it feels like summer in Greece, Spain or Southern Italy and give you a little bit of that. Bar-tenders need to be the kings of small talk.’

Moving onto the concept of NIO, Patrick is happy to pour out a pre-mixed negroni from a small box to highlight just how good the cocktail is. Its a brave move, but it works and the drink is a full-bodied version of the classic and one that can fit through your average letter box at home.

Bringing Drink Kong and all the flavours we spoke about to your own home is just another innovative move that looks like it will pay off for Patrick.


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