Upstairs at Edition, the city’s first five-star hotel in the buzzing Water Street district, the bar is dark, sleek and cool, with rich blue velvet curtains and cozy lime green couches, one of several bars and restaurants in the hotel. Punch Room serves punches “dedicated to flavors and spirits of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico,” according to its website. And yes, they have a Tampa punch with rum — $25 a glass — with the cocktail menu indicating guests should not expect those little paper umbrellas one might get at a beach bar.
The bartender — wait, mixologist — is Tural Hasanov, 35, who’s served drinks from Dubai to Shanghai, on a private island in the Maldives and from the 123rd floor at a place called At.Mosphere.
“Punch is the oldest recorded drink in the world,” says Hasanov, who’s written a book — “Distilled: My Encyclopedia of Beverages” — the first in a series.
A conversation with Hasanov on what it’s like to land in fast-changing Tampa, where espresso martinis currently rule the cocktail world. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Where are you from and how did you find your way to bartending?
So this one is very complicated. I was born in Azerbaijan. When I was a kid my family moved to Russia. Then I moved to Ukraine. First time I went to a bar was in Azerbaijan (where he went to university.) There was one small bar, kind of tiny, Victorian style. I could describe anything about that bar.
There was an old gentleman. He made me my first drink. An Old Fashioned. Not my favorite cocktail.
If I were born again, I would be a bartender. Third time, same.
The funniest thing that happened to me in my career was in Maldives (when he threw limes at sharks in the waters nearby.)
Sharks eat limes?
No, I was scaring them. Guests were scared of them. I could not throw oranges, they’re too big. Pineapples don’t float. So I threw limes. And I’d collect them up again.
What about bartending appeals to you?
You can create stuff. It’s kind of a symphony, you know? Some people like single malts, they like bourbon. Sometimes you want to listen to just the piano. But orchestra is different, when you have so many things playing in harmony.
Have you ever worked at a dive bar?
I’ve been to many of them, but I’ve never worked in one.
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Water Street Tampa is establishing an identity. How would you describe the clientele?
People do have money, and it’s mostly young money. They drink high-end. They’re willing to pay. The young crowd comes for the tequila and vodka.
Given where you’ve been, does Tampa feel like a very small town?
It’s very small. But what I like is, it’s clean. People are friendly. They talk to you, how is your day?
Where are you living?
I live in Cora (a high-rise a short walk away.) Because I cannot drive. I want to. I think in the U.S. you need to drive. In the rest of the places I’ve worked, you don’t need to drive. I tried a golf cart.
How’d you do?
I hit another golf cart as soon as I switched the engine on.
Do you prefer mixologist or bartender?
I don’t mind. It’s the same thing. The greatest people who worked behind the bar, they were bartenders. Now we’re mixologists. Trends change, names change.
What are the hot cocktails?
It’s crazy, the amount of espresso martinis — we go through thousands of espresso martinis a week. Thousands. Espresso martini, the biggest trend in Florida.
What’s your favorite drink?
I’m a big fan of IPAs. IPA I think is the most specific drink in the world. You like it or you hate it. No person says IPAs are OK. I’m a big fan of champagne ... I’m a very big fan of red wine. My favorite cocktail is a Charlie Chaplin — sloe gin, lemon and apricot, very simple. But it should be made nice.
Surprisingly, I‘m not a big drinker. I drink one glass of beer.
Have you served celebrities?
We served Ronaldo, we served Rihanna, we served Jackie Chan (at At.Mosphere.)
(In Tampa) John Cena was here. We had Hulk (Hogan) ... Ed Sheeran was here, but he didn’t come to Punch Room.
Is it true about good bartenders being good listeners?
People like to talk. Most people don’t drink at home. At home it doesn’t taste as good as it would be in a bar. Good listeners, yes.
Do you find yourself critiquing the bartender in your mind when you’re out?
I don’t want to, but yes, I do. (He does does not like the use of a soda gun for soda water.) A soda gun is just tap water with gas ... I don’t want anybody to drink tap water. (For cocktails, soda water should be poured and served on the side) to make it fit to your taste.
What do you do for fun?
Walking. I like sun. I walk from here to Hyde Park, (have) that beer and walk and come back. I like the houses in Hyde Park area ... the green grass. I buy pistachios and feed the squirrels.
What’s the best thing about this job?
Everything. I like to create stuff. You get to try things. I tried 1905 cognac. I tried 1948 Macallan whiskey. You try something somebody your grandfather’s age made.
We have a lot of people who come to talk. We become friends. (They ask) if they go visit someone. what (wine) can they buy?
We had one guest: We are going to find the best cocktail. We tried with vodka, we tried with whiskey, we tried with gin. Every week he comes, we taste.
What’s the weirdest thing a customer ever asked for?
In the U.S., and they ask a lot, is vodka with water.
It’s crazy. Why would you drink vodka with water? The definition of vodka is odorless, tasteless … when you sip something, you need the flavors ...
But the best drink is the one you like. I can give you the oldest cognac, and if you don’t like it, it’s not the one.
What does it take to be a particularly good bartender?
Passion. A lot of people, they say skill can be taught. I agree.
Attitude is very important. But the passion — If you don’t like it, you won’t be able to do it. Or you’ll become one of those people who just use the soda gun.