Spirit of the Irish

Detroit man Mark Cooney will represent Ireland at the Olympics of bartending, writes Deirdre Reynolds

Mark Cooney has a shot at world’s best bartender

Sunday World

Meet Ireland’s top barman who’s gin it to win at next month’s world championships.

Recently crowned World Class Bartender of the Year Ireland 2022 — Mark Cooney is set to fly the flag at the upcoming Diageo World Class Bartender of the Year Global Finals in Sydney.

Combined with his love of Guinness, red beard and gift of the gab, the only thing the Limerick hopeful is missing now is the accent. “It blows people’s minds,” laughs Mark, who’s actually from the US.

“I’ll be going to the shop or something, and I’ll get stopped [by someone] like, ‘Oh, you’re the bartender of the year’, because Limerick’s a small place. I’ll be like, ‘Oh yeah, hi’, and they’re like, ‘You’re not from here at all, are you?’”

Former classical musician Mark first swapped his oboe for a Boston shaker a decade ago, before the Covid-19 pandemic shuttered bars and restaurants around the world, inspiring him to shake things up once more.

“During lockdown I was unemployed, as most of us in the hospitality industry were, and I had time to reassess what I wanted,” tells the 35-year-old, who moved to Ireland in 2020. “My grandmother is from Ennis originally and I had come here a few years ago and just loved it. So I sold everything I owned and I got on a plane with three suitcases and my dog, Xavier.”

Now working as regional beverage developer for NolaClan hospitality group, smiley Mark may also be familiar to some from his time behind the bar at Limerick hot spot The Sisters Social.

Just like actor Stanely Tucci though, who left fans thirsty in more ways than one with his viral Negroni tutorial during lockdown, Mark insists you don’t need specialist training or fancy bar equipment to make your own quaffable creations at home.

“Pornstar martinis and espresso martinis are big,” he says. “I’ve seen an interest in Old Fashioneds lately too, which is cool.

“This is my thing: when making cocktails at home you can spend all that money if you want to. At the end of the day, so long as you have a decent spirit to work with, a fresh lemon or lime and sweetener, you’re going to make a great drink.

“You can shake it in a jar if you want to, or go fancier and put it in a tin. I think it’s just a matter of having fun and enjoying the thing that you’re drinking.”

Up against more than 50 competitors from around the world, should he triumph at the “Olympics of bartending” taking place from 12-15 September however, Mark’s more likely to be celebrating with a pint of the black stuff.

“I’m a Guinness guy,” he laughs. “If I win, it’s ‘Global Bartender of the Year’, which would be a great thing. It’s just an absolute pleasure and an honour to be able to represent a place that I call home.”

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