Dries Botty x Smokey Jo's Garage
Time to dust off the banjo and grow out your beard because Smokey Jo’s Garage is the hillbilly paradise you never knew you needed. Not convinced? Well, how about having your drink made by Dries Botty, winner of the Belgian World Class and by default the best bartender in the country.
This Is Antwerp: How long have you been working as a bartender?
Dries Botty: "I’ve been working behind the bar for about six years now. I started at absinth bar Appelmans, in the center of Antwerp, then after a year and a half I moved to the coast. I worked in a bar in Blankenberge, called L’Apereau, for three years. But then Kasper, my boss from the absinth bar, called me because he needed a bar manager for his new restaurant/bar Josephine’s. So I returned to Antwerp to help out and eventually Josephine’s became The Dirty Rabbit. One thing led to another and now I’m here at Smokey Jo’s Garage."
TIA: So your employer had a lot of influence on your career?
Dries: "Yeah, definitely! He is someone who is very well known in the hospitality sector. He knows a lot of people, which gives me a lot more exposure. He supports me wherever and whenever I need it, and just generally he provides me with ample opportunities. As you can see."
TIA: Was working the bar always your passion?
Dries: "Not really, actually. My parents used to own a restaurant, but it was not until I started studying informatics at university that I realized I wanted to pursue a career behind the bar. I don’t even remember how I got into the cocktail thing exactly. It just got into my head and it never left. I think I'm one of the lucky few that makes a living doing what he loves, everyday behind the bar is a good one and it doesn't even feel like working."
TIA: Did you have a favorite drink before you became a bartender?
Dries: "I used to like beers more, especially with a good chaser next to it, so not one particular favorite. Even now, I believe every kind of drink has its own time and place to be enjoyed. I have lots of signature cocktails and personal creations, but no favorites. Like I said, a time and place for every drink."
TIA: You won the Belgian World Class and next is the world scene, how does that feel?
Dries: "I’ve been competing at the world level now for four or five years already. It was my fifth time in this competition and I told myself it would be the last time as well. I’m still surprised that I won for Belgium, it opens up a lot of doors and now I’m prepping for the world finals in Miami. We’ll see what happens, I’m not going there thinking I have to win. I just want to do what I do best, have some fun with it and see how far I can get."
TIA: Tell us a bit about Smokey Jo’s Garage...
Dries: "The entire concept is a trailer trash hillbilly style bar and restaurant, basically everything is garage inspired. Hence the name; “Smokey” because our food is barbecue oriented, so smoke and fire; “Jo’s” is a bit of a throwback to Josephine’s, the last summer bar, but also a wink to the Wild Jo beer; and “Garage” because this location used to be the garage of a brewery. Essentially we are trying to give the people a nice urban and underground atmosphere, while still being in the city center.
In my opinion, it’s one of the most creative and conceptual summer bars in the city right now. Also, we want to target a broad audience; so we have the European Championship games playing at the front, an old-school playground in the back, all kinds of drinks and workshops. You will see all ages here, young, old and in between."
TIA: Favorite hangout in Antwerp?
Dries: "De Vedet."
TIA: Favorite restaurant in Antwerp?
TIA: Favorite location for a pop-up bar in Antwerp?
Dries: "On a boat, going down the river Scheldt."
More Smokey Jo's Garage?
Smokey Jo’s Garage is now open for the entire summer. Besides the aforementioned activities, they also host movie nights, BBQ Sundays, live music, and if you are still not convinced after all that, well, in their own words: “If you’re looking for fairytales, go to fucking Disneyland”.
For more information, visit smokeyjosgarage.be.
Text by Kevin Lau
Pics by Dries Botty