The temple of mixed drinking. Madison Cafe’ Tropea (VV)

The coolest destination for all drinkers: from coffee and chocolate lovers, to fruit juice enthusiasts up to wine and spirits experts.

Francesco Mazzitelli, Calabrian entrepreneur and owner of the Madison Bar, identified among the 100 most famous bars in Italy, seemed tired and stressed by the Summer season which this year was very tough especially due to poor availability of workers.Generally, during the peak season, the Madison was open 24 hours a day and had a staff of 20 people.This year, in early September, only three of them found themselves having to cover the entire working day: Francesco, his wife Caterina and Genny, top barlady and loyal employee.In August Tropea was full of tourists and the Madison Bar, due to lack of workers, found itself having even to reduce business hours.This condition is common not only to many bar and restaurants in the area, this is a problem localized throughout Italy.

FM: “Now even the supermarkets sell drinks. I sell coca cola for 2 euros but you pay 1 euro at the supermarket. That euro makes a lot of difference. And it does not support service at the table, ice, lemon, management costs. We have had to distance ourselves, with a consequent decrease in client; we had to sanitize, facing the cost of a continuous sanitation of the room; we had to buy new products, masks, sanitizers …To make matters worse, during these 2 years of crisis and lockdown, people have mentalized themselves towards the consumption of new products, and have been led to different habits. Then you have the customer who criticizes the 1.20 euro coffee and says: “Are we in Milan?”The government has managed to turn the working class against the entrepreneurial class by pulling itself out of its responsibilities. Now everyone wants capsule coffee, or other things. The consumption of products in the restaurant is over, it is dying.

Francesco Mazzitelli is the trustee of A.I.B.E.S., the Italian Association of Barmen And Supporters which is among the founders of the I.B.A. (International Bartenders Association); for Calabria and Basilicata and, for a few months, it was also for Puglia; he is also judge of honor at the Baritalia of Reggio Calabria.

In his career as an entrepreneur he has always aimed at the enhancement of local products, organic and zero km. He is a son of art. His father, Pasquale Mazzitelli, is a well-known and respected pastry chef throughout the Vibo Valentia area. This article tells about Francesco’s career as enterpreneur and as an innovative mind.A story that walks in parallel to that of many other entrepreneurs in Southern Italy. Known by all as Bimbone, Francesco is a philosopher of drinking. He teaches how to drink well while respecting nature and the identity of the ingredients.

He is a high-level professional who over the last 25 years, in Tropea, has created truly daring events and projects for the drink culture in the area. After making experiences in clubs and bars, in 1995, he got into management by taking up a bar in the small town, Ricadi, in ViboValentia. The bar was proposed to his father who, being busy with another venue, preferred to offer him the possibility of an experience on his own.

The small town’s environment and a number of other things were not in line with the work culture that Francesco had acquired over the years.

FM: “It was a small town bar where old people use to play cards at the tables, where, despite the ashtrays on the tables, I always found unlit cigarettes on the floor … After 6 months I closed that place and went to work with my father.” 

In 1998, his father opened a pastry shop in Tropea, leaving him the bar they had run together until then.A spacious venue with tables outside, in Santa Domenica di Ricadi.It was the Cafe’ de Bahia which for 5 years was a point of reference for the young and old on Santa Domenica who, even today, do not have playful and cultural spaces, even a cinema or a theater.Francesco was far-sighted and inclined to spread the culture of quality drinking. Unfortunately, this way of seeing things has not always been well received by everyone in town.However, his determination and skills, as well as his passion for his profession have brought some results.Since he was a boy, when he worked with his father, he used to ask to his clients, who lived or worked in Northern Italy, about the clubs and the bars in Milan or Turin, and about how people worked over there.

FM: “I grew up with an obsession: Why in Milan and not in Tropea?”

In 2002, following his concept of “Bar”, Francesco opens the Madison in Tropea.A dream that materializes just as he had conceived it. Immediately after the opening, the Madison gained acclaim from new customers and foreigners who, leaving the restaurant comment like this: “A proposal and a professionalism that cannot be found even in MIlan!” Or also: “Madison is an oasis in the desert.”

The trade magazine “Blue Blazer” has identified the Madison among the best 100 bars in Italy.“Bar Giornale”, one of the best bars in Calabria. Since its opening, Madison, the temple of mixed drinking, has offered masters, events and tastings to involve the community in a more in-depth discussion about the culture of drinking.If it is not A.I.B.E.S. to do so, he himself trains his employees by sharing his experience and his highest professionalism. Any Madison Bar employee knows what is offering you and also knows everything about the ingredients that make your choice. This doesn’t happen even in Hollywood’s elite clubs.What Francesco is doing in this territory is not easy and not at all obvious. He does not submit to globalization and tends to eliminate standardized products, including drinks, in favor of local products and ingredients. The fruit juices are also from the territory and he describes some of them enthusiastically.

FM: “There is a pomegranate juice that they make in the province of Reggio Calabria that is truly amazing. It breaks all the mold! On the coast of Reggio Calabria the annona grows well. A company grows it and produces a delicious juice in 3 versions: annona and bergamot, annona and mango and annona and yellow kiwi. All fruits grown on the territory. They are “niche” products but they are of high quality. We are also back to propose Brasilena! ” (Brasilena is soda with coffee, a drink that was in fashion in the 80s ed.).

The Madison Bar offers a range of products that you can’t find everywhere, they are local products. It differs from the standards by offering something exclusive. For some years now, the Madison has been offering a drink list that takes its cue from the culture of Tiki mixing. On the occasion of an A.I.B.E.S. event in Calabria, Tiki blending was contextualized at a regional level with local products. Even the mugs, instead of representing Polynesian masks, represent Calabrian apotropaic masks made in Bagnara Calabra. Each drink has both Calabrian references and ingredients such as bergamot, almond, and, where possible, there are even extreme proposals with onion. It is a philosophical path of mixing through the ages.

FM: ”Calabria boasts a very large assortment of products.There are about 40 Calabrian bitters, excellent Gins, and other products that give us the prerequisite for making a cultural discourse of quality as I have always done.

Recently Francesco is also working on the enhancement of wines produced by wineries that work following the artisanal method.There is a small artisan winery, not far from the Madison, which works mainly with white wine, with Zibibbo, and also makes it unfiltered. They demonstrated at Madison and gave the left over for the staff.

FM: “Every now and then we drank a drop, until the residue part remained.A fruity residue that gave me the feeling of wanting to bite it. That residue, that pulp gave me the instinct to chew it.You have to be mentally predisposed as well. If you are used to standard flavors and you do not open up you will never grasp the good of life. There are artisanal wines that have defects (I put this word in quotation marks) only because they do not fall within the standards and they are not valued. These wines should be enhanced because they are not common, they have their own character. People are tired of drinking standard, they are tired of drinking the same things over and over again. If you drink a Falanghina or a Brunello, a Nero D’Avola or a Magliocco Calabrese, as they were made and how they are still made today by many companies, you already know what you find in theRecently Francesco is also working on the enhancement of wines produced by wineries that work following the artisanal method.There is a small artisan winery, not far from the Madison, which works mainly with white wine, with Zibibbo, and also makes it unfiltered. They demonstrated at Madison and gave the left over for the staff glass. You will enjoy a pleasant and interesting but obvious drink. Instead I think we need to give more space to those artisan wineries that do not elaborate the product too much. For example, there is a cellar that takes the Magliocco Canino. There they make the wine, they keep it for 2 years in steel to soften the tannicity, the astringency. If you are used to drinking standard wines, the taste of this wine might be strange to you. This product, given by the territory, made without too many elaborations and modifications gives this result. We must begin to love products that give identity to the territory. It is useless to drink a wine in Calabria having the expectations of a Piedmontese wine. It does not make sense. When you taste a wine you must understand that it is a different world. You can like it or not, but it must be known and appreciated for what it is for its own character. “

1380 were the proposals by Madison Bar, including spirits and more. However, today they have decreased considerably due to the covid emergency measures that have brought the whole Italian economy to its knees, especially that of the South. Francesco was forced to limit the proposal by eliminating drinks, crepes, ice creams and everything too elaborated.

FM: “This is a delicate moment that is making me think about the future. At almost 50 years old, all lived in the bar, you struggle in a place where you have no support from the institutions. There are difficulties in finding staff, difficulties caused by the new regulations … In the future, I don’t know whether to upset the venue or further reduce the proposal. Due to the covid, I eliminated all the elaborated things and the proposal dropped by 50%. “

He hopes his children can travel the world and experience before stopping in one place. Regarding Madison’s future, if things don’t change he fears they might get worse.The project oriented toward a characteristic regional gastronomic would appeal to him but he is confused and does not know yet. Meanwhile, he finds himself having to deal with more urgent issues such as the payments of bills, rent and more that must be made.The government does not help and turns out to be ridiculous through a system designed exclusively to make the enterpreneurs, who already have other expenses, spending money.

In short: The lockdown did countless damages. Many bar products have remained unsold and have expired. In Italy, the owner of a business, in order to be refunded and prove that he has not sold the expired products, must follow a protocol. The protocol first requests the visit of the police officers, who, have ascertain that the material is unsold and expired. They also have to make a report of destruction and seal the material; then a specialized company will provide for the destruction of the material. The company is located 70 km away and the cost starts from 250 euros. If the owner of a business does not proceed this way, will be fraudulent. He will be believed to having sold products without beating a receipt. Therefore he will become even a tax evader. In times of artificial intelligence this is the reality of the facts and the level of self-harm of the Italian state. The condition of many businesses in Southern Italy presents itself with a thousand difficulties, lack of employees and lack of support from the government.

The “dragon” first killed the Bank of Italy, then signed up for the cuts. Therefore, following their plans, the plans of the bankers like the “dragon”, the businesses that will not be able to sustain themselves on their own strength will succumb. This is in the South as well as in the North of Italy which in Europe has now become privatized South, the toy of bankers disguised as human beings. How long will Italian businesses be able to resist? The Madison has 40 outdoor seats in addition to indoor seats. The anti-covid emergency rules request for the use of a mask for the staff at all times.

Customers are required to use a mask at the entrance to the bar and at the cash desk. Consuming indoor includes the display of the greenpass. However, having the possibility of an outdoor space (even in Winter), everyone always prefers to consume outdoors, so the problem is avoided. On the other hand, even in Winter at the Madison customers prefer to sit outside, where they are welcomed by a comfortable environment sheltered by glass and outdoor heaters. In Tropea the air is warm and scented with flowers even in the cold season. Francesco is tenacious and resists. He does it for his family, he does it for his community.

In fact, the Madison is not just a cocktail bar, it is a place that embraces a full range of customers. It opens very early in the morning for breakfast for workers, students, mothers who have coffee after taking their children to school … Until 12pm, with snacks and aperitifs. Then the afternoon at coffee time, which in South of Italy means “any time”. In Winter the afternoons are for tea and chocolate. To close with the evening aperitif and after dinner with bitter coffees and spirits. The Madison caters to a large clientele offering a wide range of selected products. Although the Italian government does not do much to put people in a position to work in order to survive, Francesco remains an enthusiastic and passionate about his work that goes beyond managing the bar and mixing cocktails, it is something more that he describes textually:

FM: “I like to greet students in the morning. I have seen many of them growing up. Many came as children sometimes accompanied by their mothers, to get a fruit juice, a gelato… Today they come for an aperitif, maybe with their girlfriends. I have 20 years of experience during which I got to know an intimate side of my customers.The habits of any of them, their preferences regarding drinks or coffee. You know, the bartender is also a confidant for customers. It also happens with strangers who, feeling at ease,they share an intimate aspect of their own. This is very enriching experience. I appreciate it. I find it one of the most beautiful sides of my profession, perhaps the most beautiful of all.”