Andrew Wilkin meets Gerhard Kozbach-Tsai of Vienna’s Tür 7 for his continuing series on the European Masters of Bartending. The man behind the door opens up about his career, a traditional and classic one in the age of the ‘rockstar’ bartender.
It’s refreshing in an increasingly glitzy and global bar industry to meet those who aren’t interested in the bells and whistles. Gerhard Kozbach-Tsai, head honcho of Vienna’s delightful Tür 7, is one of those people.
If there’s one thing that’s achingly clear about him is that he’s classic to the core. Tsai doesn’t guest-bartend or jetset around working for multiple brands. What he does both in his career – as well as this conversation – is focus on the nitty gritty of the bar. We meet for a tipple in his bar – where else? – located in Vienna’s bourgeois Josefstadt district to look over his trajectory.
From Planter’s Club to Tür 7
His first bartending job was in an Irish pub, although after that he floated into other professions. “I worked 3 and a half years in fashion and sport, which was also what I studied. I used to work for a company that imported fashion from Italy, then I sold it to the stores around Austria,” he says. He then did the same for sports clothing, before working for a brewing company.”
Tsai started bartending for serious in the new millennium. After some stints working in Greece in a hotel, and a three month sojourn to South Africa, he went to Christian Ebert’s Barkeeperschule – the first bartending school in Austria. Would he recommended it for fledgling bartenders? “Learning by doing is always very good, but you definitely need a school on the side,” he says. “You don’t really know what you are learning from your colleagues, as you have no experience. What’s best is to have the experience from school and then to learn by doing.” Christian Ebert is his biggest inspiration and his biggest teacher, and still runs the bar school today.
Gerhard then worked at a variety of bars in Vienna for a decade, but he always kept things classic. “The way I made my cocktails and the way I served to people was always very classic, but not too classic,” he says. “They always fitted the concepts of the places.” After a stint at the needs-no-introduction Planter’s Club, he opened up the bar Aux Gazelles in 2005 and stayed there until 2007, before moving to the bar Little Bruder – the brother bar to Paris’s Bruder – for two years as Bar Manager. After one extra year at Aux Gazelles, he then moved to the famous Scotch Club as Head Bartender, which lasted three years. The Scotch Club is acclaimed as a good spot for cocktails albeit lately more as a disco and champagne lounge.
The locked, friendly door
Gerhard now runs Tür 7, which he opened up in 2014. I ask him about the name, which is commenting on the idea of the Türsteher – the doorman. All guests at Tür 7 have to ring the doorbell in order to come in. He refutes the idea that a locked door is unfriendly. “If the door is locked, then you have to ring on the door. This gives me the chance to open it for you,” he claims. “It really means a lot when somebody opens a door for you.”
It’s not just that though. “On the other side, it gives me the chance to keep the place locked and keep people outside,” he says. “I’ve seen it in so many other places – they are already doing good business and then 5-10 more people walk in. Then you have too many people inside and you can’t handle it anymore.” “It’s always to do to do with the Tür”, he says with finality. He then goes on to describe how his humble Tür 7, just 100sqm in size, keeps things easy for guests. “It’s furnished like an apartment – the door is locked, you ring the bell, we take your jacket, and take you to the bar or the cabinet where you can smoke.” Hospitality, for him, takes precedence over the drinks.
He also claims there’s no need for a cocktail menu. “We are the bar menu. We will make our own recommendations or you tell us what you fancy. We’ll do whatever you ask. Twists or classic cocktails,” he says. However the classics, for him at least, should stay classic. “You always have to respect the classic drinks. A classic daiquiri should always be a daiquiri.” Ironically it’s also his favourite drink. A daiquiri made with 60mls white rum, 13mls lime and 15mls of sugar. Yet ever the polite man, he won’t pinpoint any rum brands.
The man behind the Tür clearly isn’t a guy that likes to make enemies. I bring up the glitzy competition circuit, which he never competed in. How come? “I needed to be behind the bar,” he states. It’s the same with guest bartending. But he won’t criticise those bartenders who do. “If they’re young, it’s in their interest to travel around. If big brands send them around, they make good money,” he smiles. “But you should never forget where you come from – you come from the bar.”
One thing he doesn’t like so much is vodka. “If you promote vodka in your bar, in my opinion it leads to long drinks and then customers will ask ask for Red Bull and stuff. I wanna keep this outside,” he sighs. He however let’s Ciroc and Ketel One through the door and onto his bar shelf.
He also speaks of his close ties to the Viennese bar community – so much so he is head of the Vienna Bar Community, an organization set up to connect bartenders in the Austrian capital. “I realised a community within the industry – one where you see each other and do workshops – this didn’t really exist,” he says. He describes how it became an instant hit. “We started and the the Community became very popular – now we have 600 members. This is also something we do with no financial interest, it’s all for free,” he says. I ask for his favourite bars, for which he reels off many: Eberts, Halbestadt, Barfly’s, Nightfly’s. “Actually, I love more or of less all the bars in our bar community, as we don’t just do the workshops together, we also visit each others’ bars on a regular basis,” he claims.
He compares Vienna now to Berlin 10 years ago – but strictly in a bar sense. “Many bars are opening and they are very professional,” he says. “People love Vienna, everything is a bit slower and always done with a family touch.”
Tür 7 in perpetuity
Don’t expect a new Tür 7 – he has no plans for another bar – but don’t expect it to close either. “I see myself sitting at Tür 7 when i’m 70 or 80 years old. I always want to see it for the next generation,” he grins. The classic tradition of Gerhard Kozbach-Tsai continues apace.