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Recapping the History of the Guild with Former USBG President, Livio Lauro

By Amira Ansari posted 02-06-2023 14:54


USBG Weekly IGTV broadcast 1.18.23 has been condensed to emphasize highlights and relay information relevant to this blog.

Last month, @Aaron Gregory Smith caught up with former USBG President, @Livio Lauro, to learn more about the Guild’s history as we celebrate 75 years of the USBG this year!

Aaron: So, Livio, you are former bartender, former President of the UBSG, and now Director of Spirits at Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits in Las Vegas. Thank you for joining us! Livio, let's talk a little bit. Let's start a little bit about your role. So, the Wine & Spirits - you wear a lot of hats. Tell us what you're doing and projects that are coming up.

Livio: Starting February 8, we are reinitiating the Academy of Spirits in-fight service, which since November of 2000, under the leadership of @Francesco Lafranconi. It was founded, and it was an institution. Unfortunately, the pandemic had us shutting down, and we're just excited to have it back, never a better time with so many restaurants hiring new people. 50% of your staff members now are new, and training is highly needed. I'm happy to be a part of bringing us back on track.

Aaron: It's really exciting. I know so many people who've received like, just top quality education from that program over the years, you know, and it was in many different states, too. I know we had educators in Indiana and Chicago, in Illinois, and here in California. So really excited to see that program coming back. In all your tenure with the USBG you have had the opportunity to really delve deeply into the history of the organization, and even wrote a book called Liquid Legacy. I'd love to hear a little bit more about the USBG as you know it, especially since, you know, it just has so many cool times with American history, world history.

Livio: If you take any two years span of the USBG since 1948, there's wow all over it. And so not only are we celebrating 75 years, we're celebrating 75 years of incredible tradition, but it all started because in 1933, kind of towards the end of prohibition in the UK; there was a Cocktail Competition, and that Cocktail Competition united a bunch of UK bartenders, and those bartenders ended up founding the UK BG in 1934. And once prohibition was lifted in America, a lot of those came to work to America.

Finally, in 1947, the Treasurer of the UK BG came to America of all things to promote Pimm's Cup because he also worked for the Pimm's brand. So hey, when you're celebrating the Guild, with a good glass of Pimm's, a there's a traditional traditional tie there. And with that, the California Chapter of the United Kingdom Bartenders killed this for those we then grew big enough. And in 1961, it turned into the California Bartenders' Guild, and then in 1972, to the United States Bartenders' Guild and kind of to the organization as we know it today.

Aaron: Wow. Well, that is quite a history. I'm sure there's way more details than that in the book that's going to be coming out later this year, and it's gonna be available at our big 75th anniversary celebration August 13-16th at the Biltmore in Arizona. As the author of Liquid Legacy, and I know this started out as a pamphlet that was to correspond with a seminar that you were that you were presenting on; can you tell us a little bit about how the whole book has come to life?

Livio: The best way to explain it is how my friend Luca Picchi explains how he wrote the book on the Negroni. He was stumbling upon some old pictures - found one picture of a drugstore called Ezone, which was where the Negroni was built, created, and that one picture, just drag them into this lifelong project. I was window shopping on eBay. Literally, I have an eBay search for USBG. And so every time anything USBG comes for sale, I'm a nerd and I go and check it out. And there's this one picture that just gave me energy. I'm not looking at a picture. I'm looking at a picture in an eBay post. So there's 20 layers between me in this picture, but it just gave me an interesting energy. And so I ended up purchasing it. It was $12. Who who wants to buy a picture of six guys holding a cup? And so nobody knew who we were. Well, those ended up being the founders, our original founders of the UK, Big West Coast, California Chapter. And I learned a lot from them, and it's basically expanded into more and more incredible stories, incredible stories. I mean, our members - what they went through - just think about the beginning of the 1900's, right? All the things we went through; two world wars, festivals, all those things and in all of that, our members found the opportunity to create a chapter and unite bartenders together. It gives me the chills.

Aaron: It's incredible. Yeah, I know there's a ton of stories and in every single one, everybody you know, who's part of the association now or ever has been, has an experience that that's unique and has their own perspective of the organization. But there's also a lot of things that bind us together as a Guild and as an association. One of those things is that is the uniform and, you know, as we look at bartenders now, across the spectrum, from neighborhood bars to craft cocktail bars to hotel bars and everything in between entertainment and news, etc., you know, the uniform is something that like ranges as much as there are kind of customers and customer types that attend these kinds of bars. But that was a really important aspect of the USBG history and sort of identifying itself. It's also a big part of the International Bartenders Association culture. So what can you tell us a little bit about, you know, the uniform and where the Guild got it's uniform and where it has been?

From left to right, USBG Lifetime Members: Francesco Lafranconi, Bobby Gleason, Tony Abou-Ganim and Livio Lauro

Livio: It was important from day one, because the our founding members when they flew to UK for the first Cocktail Competition, the Guild, that chapter did not even have a logo yet. We didn't have a crest. So they just went to the store and they bought for American flag shields and just pin them on their chest. And so from day one, even when they did not have that, but, obviously as years went by, in 1952-53, we actually had a beautiful crest, that we ornated with a beautiful gold jacket, white shirt, blue tie to this to pay homage to the state of California. And, and part of that was also because remember, we're talking about World War One, World War Two, we're talking about a lot of things going on here. A lot of our members were called upon to serve in the wars, both from the UK side and the US side. And so wearing the uniform is really a big deal. It helps represent who you are. It kind of was an easy way to say, "What I am representing, what I am bringing to you is more than just myself. It's myself." So, what's been the playful portion of the United States Bartenders' Guild has been that uniform. Think about it. When you used to go to an IBA convention, everybody wore blue or black until the USBG showed up with their red coats. And when they showed up with their red coats, they were pretty cool. So the Irish Guild started wearing green coats and the New Zealand the yellow coat, and the Peruvian Guild also wore a red coat. And so, it just became a way to differentiate. Differentiate yourself in the crowd.

Aaron: Yeah, having attended a couple of these IBA, International Bartender Association events, myself, it's still a big part of the culture across the across the world to unite in this tradition of wearing your organization's colors. And it's interesting you mentioned so much of organizational structure across all types of industries. Even our hospitality industry really rooted in that the leadership that was created in the military structure. So kind of fascinating to see how that also impacted just that.

Livio: ...I forgot to mention, there are over a dozen members of the USBG that were buried in their red jacket. It was part of their will was, well, make sure that I am in my red jacket. By the way, I'm wearing mine today. I'm represented.

Aaron: Very nice.

Livio: Guild matters. Fun fact, right, is when we when we originally started the new USBG. Not new because we have full lineage, but when finally the younger group took over - we were considered a little too passionate and a little too unorganized. And so when we went to design, our new logo, the one that we still use today, we went from bright red to burgundy because we were told bright red means passionate. We know you guys have passion, the problem is in the liquor industry, the hotel industry needs to know that you have stability in order to be good partners in that community. And right dark burgundy-ish reds are a little more stable than bright reds. And the same thing with the blue - we took the light blue, and we turned it into a darker blue. And there was this trim around our logo that was literally a yellow crayon, right and so our logo was bright yellow, bright red, bright blue, which I think is awesome...

And that was a big part of it. Again, it ties back in, Aaron, to paying attention to the uniform - paying attention to those things. Because back in the day, there was not one liquor company, hotel group that would partner with us. Right, we we had we didn't have the credibility. Today, I'm not sure that there's a major liquor company that doesn't earmark some sort of a partnership with the Guild so that they could build their brands because they believe in what the Guild does for their brands...

Livio: ...When we started the chapter in Nevada with, you know, @Bobby Gleason, @Tony Abou-Ganim, Francesco, and that really cool starting group, we had basically set the standard that you needed to take the Wine and Spirits Academy course. That was the 12-week academy that Francesco taught, and it basically laid a really great foundation because each and every one of our members had to go through the quote unquote, torture. Obviously, the education and knowledge is never torture, but they needed to go through that waiting process in order to get their certificate, and then sign up. It created a really important backbone for the organization at the time that the organization needed that backbone...

Aaron: I think you mentioned it perfectly about how the organization continues to grow and change to meet the changing world that we live and work in. I think you touched on it, but people come to the USBG from all different places and for so many different reasons. And I wanted to see if you had anything to comment about, like, how it felt to watch this transition, having been, you know, there from the moment that we went from one chapter to many chapters. What have you seen?

Livio: I mean, I've seen it all right?...The way the Guild has evolved today is no matter what you're trying to gain out of it, you can find it. If you're looking for friends, legit friends; yeah, you will find it in the Guild because we have this connection. We have this union. If you're looking for knowledge, if all you care about is to become the world's foremost expert in mezcal and you don't care about anything else. The Guild has that for you. If you're wanting to elevate your career from just trying to find a better place to work at, the Guild has that for you. If your dream is to meet the master distiller for Wild Turkey, the Guild can give that to you...

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