Moe Aljaff is a bartender who’s used to starting from scratch. When the globe-trotting Bacardi Legacy finalist moved from Oslo to Barcelona to open his own bar, he was sure to have stories to tell. We caught up with Moe Aljaff and got the latest on his unorthodox bar, Two Schmucks.
The Barcelona bar scene is rapidly building a name for itself – and it’s a reputation that goes well beyond the Gin & Tonic craze. Barcelona’s barflies are drinking a dizzying variety of cocktails in an ever-increasing number of internationally-acclaimed bars. And bartenders like Moe Aljaff of Two Schmucks are leading the charge. Aljaff is undeniably one of the scene’s most familiar faces – a charming, affable bartender with a risk-taking, globe-trotting story to tell.
Moe Aljaff: A worldwide odyssey
Moe Aljaff was born in the Middle East but grew up in Sweden from the age of four. He left home at 18 and the next few years saw him make his way across the world. First stop: Amsterdam. After a stint in the “brutal flyering business” of the city’s notorious bar crawls, where whoever gets the most business, gets to lead the evening’s festivities, his first bartending experience was in a hostel bar. “They knew I didn’t know what I was doing, so they put me on the reception graveyard shift,” Aljaff says. “But then, when people were sick, I covered for them and learned the ropes.”
Aljaff travelled the world, including in India and Thailand – where he worked barefoot behind a beach bar at a diver’s resort and was nearly arrested for overstaying his visa. But things really began to take off in Norway – a place Aljaff moved to having “heard bartenders earn a lot there.” After a short time as a barista, he did a stint at Oslo’s Himkok. It was “an amazing place, where I learned a lot about homemade ingredients,” says Aljaff. He then moved on to Brooms & Hatchets, his first experience of working in a hotel bar.
Being a People person
Moe Aljaff first gained international attention when he participated in Bacardi Legacy in 2016 – a competition in which he eventually finished a highly laudable third. Legacy gave Aljaff a chance to be entrepreneurial as well as creative. “You get given a marketing budget of €2000 and then you come up with a drink and its marketing strategy,” he says. He knew he would soon want to open his own bar.
Aljaff ties all his up-to-then experiences in a nice bow. “One of the things you can’t teach is how to deal with people,” he says. “It requires you to be there and spend time with every different type of person that walks in.” And Aljaff has certainly spent that time, in many different places, with people from all different cultures.
Two Schmucks: More than a cocktail bar
Moe Aljaff’s attitude is reflected in the laid-back nature of his current venture, Barcelona’s Two Schmucks. He’d lived briefly in Barcelona before and always wanted to come back and open a bar in the city.
Emerging from a rapturously received, and Bacardi-backed popup across the globe, Two Schmucks is an easygoing dive bar of sorts. The speakers play hip-hop, and bartenders wear flip-flops, but they still serve amazing cocktails – and a lot more besides. “We never wanted to define it as exclusively a cocktail bar,” explains Aljaff, smiling. There’s an equal focus on beers, wine, and vermouth, and they even offer Boilermakers. “To be honest, what I love drinking is a beer and a shot,” he says. “And we want you to feel comfortable with who you are, so drink what you want!”
Low cost and friendly takeovers
Appropriately enough, the story of how came to be is unconventional. Aljaff and his business partner and fellow schmuck Ahmed Moussa White, with few financial resources and absolutely zero interest in investors, went knocking on doors, scoping out bars they felt “weren’t doing so well, and maybe wanted to sell.” They found an old taco joint in the Raval district which had been ordered to close down by the authorities, and the owner wanted to sell fast – and cheap. On offer for half the market price of other similarly-sized places in the area, it was still too expensive for the duo, but they came and made an offer nonetheless. Inspired by seeing videos of Aljaff’s Bacardi Legacy experience, the owner amazingly went for it, agreeing that they could pay a small amount upfront, before then making monthly repayments.
Even lower on cash than before, Moe Aljaff and Ahmed Moussa White built the bar themselves for €2000 euros – creating a bar from the old staircase, and adding recycled benches and old lamps – lending Two Schmucks a somewhat DIY, sharehouse aesthetic. Once they’ve paid the previous owner off, the two can open the bar they want to – and that could be sooner than expected. Two Schmucks will see a significant change next year.
Already, Two Schmucks has gained quite the reputation for its bar takeovers – two days in which another bar takes over the space completely, changing more than just the menu. Everything is up for alteration – “the whole concept, music, and atmosphere,” Aljaff explains. For future popups, Two Schmucks is in talks with Broken Shaker for a big January pool party and with Remy Savage, who could be bringing his Bar Savage with him. “That couch from his Instagram? We’re gonna drive it down to Barcelona for his popup,” Aljaff says. Two Schmucks regulars, mostly expats, have shown great interest in the bar takeovers, each of which last just one night and one day.
Moe Aljaff’s Mojito mania
Moe Aljaff thinks the Mojito is widely underrated. He once went to a bar in Barcelona that served the Southside – a Gin Mojito, in other words – and asked for a standard Mojito. Aljaff was struck by the response: ‘We don’t serve those kind of drinks.’ As Aljaff pointed out, it was essentially the same kind of drink. “Why can’t you replace the Gin with Rum?” he asked.
Driven by his astonishment, Aljaff set himself a challenge to perfect the Mojito. “If the Mojito was invented today, [the inventor] would have been considered a genius,” he says. “It’s carbonated, refreshing, and easy to make.”
The Two Schmucks twist is made with a blend of Cuban white rum, clairin sajous rhum from Haiti, and a touch of pisco. Aljaff’s secret is a special ‘Mojito syrup’ made from two types of sugar, lime peels, star anise, dry mint, Moroccan mint tea, bitters, and two dashes of absinthe. Two Schmucks is clearly a place where Mojitos matter.
Moe Aljaff: Your Friendly Neighborhood Bartender
On the back of the Two Schmucks menu, there are suggestions of other local bars to visit. “We always favor community over competition,” Aljaff says, smiling. He really means it. He even arrived for our interview wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the word Raval, promoting the bar’s neighborhood.
Speaking of which, for those eager to visit Two Schmucks, don’t miss the burgers and cocktail stalwart Betty Ford’s, or Dr. Stravinsky, which was named Best New European Bar at the MIXOLOGY BAR AWARDS this year. Aljaff is optimistic about the city’s future – Barcelona has been through what he calls the “Dark Ages” for bars but now the right kind of venues are opening up. We’re talking more bartender-owned bars and fewer soulless shareholder ventures.
For Aljaff, free time doesn’t exist. Sundays, his only days off, are reserved for admin. “Until we’ve paid off the debt, it’s all work,” he says, still smiling. But there is one side project he mentions casually before leaving, one that’s sure to capture the attention of bartenders around the world. Aljaff and White are working on a documentary – no release date yet – capturing the process of “actual bar ownership, without investors, without brand sponsorship, and without speaking the language.” As Aljaff explains, “we want to show the hardships, as well as the good times.” Given Moe Aljaff’s story so far, it’s sure to be one hell of a ride.