Meet the Men behind Woland’s Speakeasy

Exclusive interview

The Speakeasy bar concept is growing internationally, and, thanks to the two gentlemen you’ll meet below, the city of Tbilisi is now among those keeping up with the trend.

Woland’s Speakeasy, with its distinct 1920s Prohibition vibe, is tucked away at 2 Ivane Machabeli Street, in a brick cellar hidden behind a bookcase in a book-cafe. Follow the steps down into the magical renovated basement for a nocturnal activity alternative of style, signature cocktails, live piano music and cigars.

GEORGIA TODAY met Amir Zafari, Founder, and Grant Freeman, Co-Founder and Bar Manager, to find out more.

When and how did you come up with the idea for a Speakeasy in Tbilisi?

AMIR: I spent couple of months in Ukraine and this was my first visit to a Speakeasy concept bar. I always wanted to have a different type of workplace outside my main job, which is all about calculation and analytics. I met Grant a year ago and he proposed the idea of opening the first Speakeasy in Georgia. We wanted to offer something exceptional and fill a gap in the market; to enrich the city and make it even more diverse for visitors and locals. Every step that is made in this country somehow effects the different circles and helps towards development in general. If you inject the cocktail culture, it’s already an important step to increasing the pull for people to stay in or visit Tbilisi.

Our ambition is to make Tbilisi the first cocktail hub in Caucasus, and I’m 100% sure that Woland’s will be an asset to this.

What are your favorite things about Georgia?

AMIR: First, how calm, safe and beautiful this country is. People are very kind here and the best way to be friends with a Georgian is to show you respect them and to speak their language. Georgia has a long military history because of its geopolitical location, and I suppose this effected people, the way they understand foreigners; the statue of Mother Georgia [Kartlis Deda, on the hill above the capital] is a great way to emphasize the Georgian character- sword or wine cup- it depends how you act with them.

You cannot be close to someone if you have second-hand conversations with locals, so I decided to learn Georgian. Counting on a translator sometimes means the feelings and emotions are lost. I would say that the best thing about Georgia is the people. Another reason is food and nature. I already know how to make ‘Ojakhuri,’ one of my favorite clay pot meals.

What are the challenges you faced while setting up the business here?

AMIR: Considering the fact that unemployment is still a problem in Georgia, there is a lack of specific skills for simple occupations such as waiter/waitress. Georgia has huge potential in the tourism and hospitality field, and I believe locals working in these areas need to be aware of their responsibilities and the specifics of the service system.

What are the keys to success for places like the Speakeasy?

AMIR: I always think from the perspective of a customer: for me, service and staff are the main reason to choose a place to visit, followed by interior design, music and bartenders. If I see that a bar has a professional bartender, I’m always curious to taste the cocktails made in a proficient way. It’s essential to treat customers as individuals. We have world-famous bartender Kirill Ledashchev offering a range of signature drinks to meet all sorts of tastes. Woland’s aims to be part of the international Speakeasy world, and we’re planning to organize international bartender masterclasses and competitions around the Caucasus. Tbilisi will be attached to an international chain of Mixology and we aim to take it to a worldwide level.

When and why did you decide to come to Georgia?

GRANT: I came to Georgia in May 2012 as the part of the Teach & Learn in Georgia program. I was going through hard times back in States and any time the Caucasus came up, it seemed like a place where you can either lose or find yourself. I’d been a chef in various restaurants and I felt I needed a break. Coming to Georgia healed me in a way, and I taught for a year in an amazing Georgian village.

What was your first experience as a businessperson in Georgia?

GRANT: I had a small café, Rosemary, with a Georgian business partner. It was a very positive experience for me. There were some property owner issues, among others, which is why the place was closed. My recommendation would be when opening a restaurant or bar in Georgia, owning a place would be the first option or find a reliable proprietor!

What are the strategic fields to be improved in Georgia?

GRANT: Distribution and logistics. for any business, specifically for hospitality, you need good distribution companies. The major issue is that the companies there are here don’t offer distribution for small orders, cutting out small restaurants or bars and meaning smaller locales are forced to set higher prices for customers. Going to such places should not be luxury.

What do you think of Tbilisi nightlife?

GRANT: In the five years I’ve been living in Tbilisi, the nightlife has improved greatly. Before, there was not much beyond a few clubs in the main tourist areas where the prices were above average. In general, I see lot changing to the better, with more bars popping up by the year. There are a lot more options for a good night out now.

What makes Woland’s Speakeasy stand out from the crowd?

GRANT: Regardless of what country you’re from, everyone likes the idea of knowing something that other people don’t. Woland’s Speakeasy is a way to escape reality and travel back in time to an era when people used to sit and chat in a classy ambiance sipping '20s-era cocktails, like Manhattans. There is a certain coolness about the Great War generation and they wanted to prove it to society. Everything is so fast and instant now and the quality is not always so good. Woland’s is about enjoying the moment along with high-quality service.

Sofo Javakhishvili

12 February 2018 17:58