Francesco Lafranconi, now the executive director of mixology and spirits education at Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits in Las Vegas, moved to the U.S. from Venice, Italy, nearly two decades ago. Since then, he has witnessed a lot of changes in the American bartending scene, particularly with the advent of craft cocktail culture. But there’s one habit he carried with him from the Old World that he just can’t break. “After being in America for 18 years,” he says. “I still cannot grab food with my fingers.” Whether he’s conducting seminars at industry conferences, demonstrating in the classroom, or walking a bar staff through a new cocktail menu, Lafranconi doesn’t work without a pair of tweezerlike stainless steel Rösle fine tongs, which he uses when garnishing.
Lafranconi, who has worked at some of Europe’s finest hotel bars, says the tongs serve a dual purpose. For one, they reduce the risk of cross-contamination. Lafranconi says he finds there’s still a cultural difference in how American and European bartenders handle ingredients. “In some bars,” he says, “you’re still dealing with ashtrays, you touch cash money, and some bartenders still stick their fingers in empty glasses when they clear them rather than holding them from the outside.” Tongs, while not eliminating the possibility of cross-contamination entirely, help reduce the likelihood that germs will be transferred from one guest’s wrinkled $20 bill to a lemon twist cresting the next guest’s martini.
In addition, of course, there’s the element of style. Before his work as an educator, Lafranconi’s bartending experience was gained primarily in high-end hotel bars in Europe, and his refined aesthetic reflects that. The handsome mirror-finish tongs add a level of formality and theater to cocktail bartending, which he sees more and more U.S. bartenders aspiring to. “I think with American bartending now,” Lafranconi says, “there’s a willingness to become a little bit more refined in execution.” (Or at least, he concedes, more of a willingness now than there was when he started working in the U.S. in 2000.) The tongs, Lafranconi says, “provide more of that finesse.” He prefers the six-inch model, which allows for more precision and control without looking bulky and whose grooved interior ridges are well designed for gripping garnishes. While he has a handful of go-to tools he travels with (including a favorite ice scoop and a Salvatore Calabrese shaker), the tongs “are the one tool that I can’t be separated from these days,” he says. “I feel very naked without them.”
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Gray Chapman is an Atlanta-based journalist who writes about spirits, beauty, and culture; she was formerly the managing editor of Tales of the Cocktail. Follow her on Twitter.