The Perfectionist

Hamish Smith talks to Javier de las Muelas, owner of Dry Martini in Barcelona


IN BUSINESS, THERE IS THE HEDGEHOG CONCEPT. It is based on an ancient Greek parable that states: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing,” and asserts that success is achieved through focusing your efforts on the one thing that you are passionate about, that you can become a world leader in and that has the potential to make money. With the Dry Martini, Javier de las Muelas has gone the whole hedgehog. He has done one thing and done it well.

His Barcelona bar has, over the years, become the Mecca of its namesake cocktail and one of only five venues on all seven lists of The World’s 50 Best Bars. De las Muelas has become the personification of his cocktail – he is the closest thing the drinks industry has to a cocktail ambassador. But De las Muelas didn’t actually create Dry Martini bar – he just recognised a good thing when he saw it and, over the years, made it his own. 

In the 1970s he led a meandering life of art, bars, sushi and music before he found his true calling. When he first set foot in Dry Martini in 1979, it was love at first sight. “When I saw it I thought ‘it is the Vatican’ – I was in love with it,” he says. 

De las Muelas would spend time there drinking but mostly in awe of the classical British cocktail bar surroundings. Until one day in the ’90s he plucked up the courage to speak to its elderly owner, Don Pere Carbonell. “I drank two Martinis and said, with respect: ‘When you do not want to continue with Dry Martini, please let me know.’” 

Years passed until one day Carbonell finally pulled De las Muelas aside. “Do you remember what you told me two years ago? Now is the time,” he said, adding “but if you say no, I will close the bar.” De las Muelas, in love with the bar and the drink for which it was created, had no choice but to buy it. “When I signed the forms and picked up the keys, it was raining, but we toasted with a Dry Martini I made with ingredients brought with me,” he says. 

That was the first Dry Martini he made as owner of Dry Martini bar but, by continuing Carbonell’s habit of making a note every time a Martini was sold, he knows now that more than a million have followed. He tweaked the format and, in doing so, encouraged more than just cigar-puffing gents into the bar. 

One bar was never enough for De las Muelas. He knew his Dry Martini brand was strong and he suspected it could be stronger. He enrolled in business school and formulated the idea that he could roll out his brand to hotels – globally. 

“I saw an opportunity in hotel chains, where the cocktail should be perfect, but also the atmosphere.” Not long after, Dry Martinis were being made to Mr Carbonell’s old recipe in Madrid, London (the new venue is at Melia White House) and Rio De Janiero. And probably too in his wider portfolio of more than a dozen bars. 

The Dry Martini cocktail must have had a thousand people associated with its name over the centuries but few have made it their own like De las Muelas.