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Helena Yankovska

What Hong Kong bartenders really think about you

Our city's favourite tipple makers tell us what they're really thinking

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Written by
Tatum Ancheta
&
Sam Evans
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One of our most favourite people are bartenders; they listen to our woes, make us feel good, and give us the best medicine off the counter, a cocktail. On February 24, let’s all celebrate World Bartender Day and appreciate the hard-working bartenders in our local cocktail scene.

We picked the brains of some of our local tipple makers to know what they are really thinking when working behind the bar, so that we the customers, can put happy in their happy hour. From customer orders to their favourite – and not so favourite – drinks to make, read below what our local bartenders have to say.

RECOMMENDED: From speakeasies to sake joints, these are the top Hong Kong bars shaking and stirring your favourite drinks. If you’re trying to cut back on alcohol, though, these Hong Kong bars serve excellent mocktails every bit as creative as their alcoholic offerings.

What Hong Kong bartenders really think about you

Joe Villanueva, Shangri-La Group

Joe Villanueva, Shangri-La Group

Is there a good way to get a bartender’s attention when the bar is crowded?
Eye contact and a small lift of the hand should do. Show bartenders respect, and most will do the same for you. Wait like everyone else as everyone wants their drinks ASAP and good luck on snapping your fingers getting attention.

Tell us your favourite kind of customer, and why?
Someone who appreciates the quality drinks and the services that they’ve been provided. It makes us proud of what we do for a living.

Your favourite drink to make behind the bar, why? 
Often the easiest cocktail on the menu that tastes super, it saves us time on looking after other guests, especially on a busy evening.

Your most hated drink to make behind the bar, why?
Nothing super complicated, I prefer making cocktails with two to three ingredients in a busy evening unless otherwise, everything is pre-batched. 

Would you judge patrons based on what they order?
Not at all! Everyone has different taste buds and preferences.

If they are disrespectful, what drink would you judge them for ordering?
Bartenders sometimes have been therapists. We smile and ask guests how’s their day has been, and we offer them a glass of water to start with. Some guests may just be having a bad day, so, it’s hard to judge when we do not have their full story. 

The easiest way to annoy a bartender?
Don’t, or else you’ll end up having the last one to be served or worst case getting yourself kicked out of the venue.

John Nugent, The Diplomat
Photograph: Courtesy The Diplomat

John Nugent, The Diplomat

Is there a good way to get a bartender’s attention when the bar is crowded?
Generally, if you are at a decent bar and you have some patience. Just try to get eye contact with them, and they will serve your every need. Otherwise, a polite “excuse me” works every time. That being said, bartenders should always be checking in to make sure you’re having a good drink and a good time.

Tell us your favourite kind of customer, and why?
We like to think that 7-11 has customers, but here at The Diplomat, we have guests. My favourite type of guest is the one that is drinking. It doesn’t matter what it is: cocktails, mocktails, beer, wine, or Coca Cola just as long as you’re having fun and paying your tab.

Your favourite drink to make behind the bar, why?
No huge favourites. Anything brown and stirred usually puts a smile on my face. But as long as you (the guest) like the drink we made, then I’m happy.

Your most hated drink to make behind the bar, why?
The drink that you (the guest) read about because some magazine said basil-infused gin is the next big drink and you ask me for it but then are disappointed I don’t have it. Drink what you want, not someone tells you to or have a delicious cocktail from our menu. We will try to find a suitable substitute.

Would you judge patrons based on what they order?
My saying is when it comes to drinking, “we are all trying to get to the same destination, whatever road you want to take to get there, is up to you,” but if you order a Flaming Lamborghini, I might give you a funny look.

If they are disrespectful, what drink would you judge them for ordering?
If a guest is TRULY disrespectful to my staff or me, they’re not getting a drink. But if they are just rude or unaware, vodka, lime, soda is probably coming right after I’m sure.

The easiest way to annoy a bartender?
There are many ways: hitting on bartenders, snapping fingers, fighting, breaking glass, the list goes on. Bartenders are the patron saints of putting up with BS and not looking like it bothers them. However, I think the easiest way to annoy a bartender is just not paying. Asking for money is so awkward but necessary and if a guest wants to challenge it. You know you’re in for a rough night.

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Summer Lo, Caprice

Summer Lo, Caprice

Is there a good way to get a bartender’s attention when the bar is crowded?
Someone who asks for bartenders recommendation. When it is crowded, they would mostly come in groups or pairs, and be chatting on their own. Those who want our attention directly ask for it.

Tell us your favourite kind of customer, and why?
I like talkative customers. Every time they come they can share their stories with me and I can do the same. It is very interesting. They also share with me some feedbacks in the drink or the bar, so I know what we can do better next time.

Your favourite drink to make behind the bar, why?
Our Caprice Regional cocktails are of my favourites. Because every drink is inspired by a French region and I can share the story behind the drinks. The drinks are all our Caprice own creations. So guests would know more about our concept and ideas.

Your most hated drink to make behind the bar, why?
Actually I don’t have a hated drink. But when guest order a drink out of the menu and I have to go to another outlet to source for the ingredients. This will make me disappear from the bar for a while, which I don’t like.

Would you judge patrons based on what they order?
Not really. Nowadays, cocktails are not gender-specific anymore. And my guests like to try different drinks to see which they prefer.

If they are disrespectful, what drink would you judge them for ordering?
I have experienced a group of people coming to my bar and just order a bottle of water. It makes me feel like we are at Starbucks instead of a hotel bar.

Easiest way to annoy a bartender?
If I get interrupted while talking with other guests, I feel annoyed.

Jay Khan, COA
Coa's Jay Khan I Photograph: Tatum Ancheta

Jay Khan, COA

Is there a good way to get a bartender’s attention when the bar is crowded?
I guess this really depends on what type of bar you’re at. At a cocktail bar like ours, you can just simply engage with eye contact. Body language tells you a lot. We always try our best to approach the guest before they have to raise their hand to seek attention.

Tell us your favourite kind of customer, and why?
That’s easy, any guest that likes to sit by the bar because it allows us to have a conversation with them and provide them with that little extra experience. We have two bartenders making drinks at the bar, and we can sit around ten guests. So the ratio is perfect. We can still do our work but also engage in a conversation. Although we do the same on the floor, but it is difficult when there is a group of ten who walks in. It’s almost impossible to have a proper conversation.

Your favourite drink to make behind the bar, why? 
Currently, my favourite drink to make would be our signature drink “La Paloma de Oaxaca”. It’s quick and delicious. And 99% of the time our guest loves it. It’s a game-changer. We wanted that one drink that could change even a slight perception of our guest who thinks they don’t like tequila or mezcal. This drink has converted a lot of people who thought they hated agave spirit. It’s light, refreshing, with multiple layers of flavour. It starts with an instant umami kick from the worm salt (sal de guano) and develops into a crisp and refreshing drink with a gentle smoky aftertaste.

You most hated drink to make behind the bar, why?
I don’t hate making any drink. We make them all if we have the ingredients on hand. However, an unexpected order at the wrong time can cause chaos to the flow of service. Such as in summer, most bars are not prepared to make hot drinks. If you receive an order for a hot toddy and you do not have direct access to hot water, and your spices are kept in your pantry, you will be running in and out of your pantry just to get the ingredients. But we never say no to any drink, I love making a hot toddy if I’m prepared.

Would you judge patrons based on what they order?
Never.

If they are disrespectful, what drink would you judge them for ordering?
Like I said, I don’t judge.

The easiest way to annoy a bartender?
This is tough. I don’t get annoyed easily, but I do worry about my guest. Hence, if there is a guest who is misbehaving and causing my other guest to feel uncomfortable and despite reaching out and trying to solve the issue if it continuously happens, then ill get annoyed. We are all humans, and we should respect each other no matter where we are.

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Bowie Tang, Iron Fairies

Bowie Tang, Iron Fairies

Is there a good way to get a bartender’s attention when the bar is crowded?
If the customer is polite, it will be the easiest way to draw our attention. Because of course, if one is polite and another is not, we would choose the guest that are nicer to us.

Tell us your favourite kind of customer, and why?
Polite and very patient customers.

Your favourite drink to make behind the bar, why?
I like making a classic martini because I like things simple and intense at the same time.

Your most hated drink to make behind the bar, why?
Bloody Mary! Because there are so many ingredients and it takes a lot of time to put it together.

Would you judge patrons based on what they order?
Oh yes, I do judge people on what they order, for example, people who order beer are often easygoing and simple. Some people are very complicated; they have their own requests on drinks and cocktails. For people who order whisky, most of the time, these are the calm, quiet, and deep personalities.

If they are disrespectful, what drink would you judge them for ordering?
If they are rude, I don’t easily judge because you don’t know the full story. Maybe a guest had some reason behind it; maybe he is pissed off by his girl before he came by so he is having a bad day. So I never judge, because it comes with the profession.

The easiest way to annoy a bartender?
Oh, it’s when a guest comes during a busy Friday or Saturday peak hours and would go by the bar to order something off the menu but will not give anything specific instead would ask us to make something for what they are currently ‘feeling’. They would say, “something that I feel like”.

Bryson Rivera, Bar Q88, JW Marriott Hotel

Bryson Rivera, Bar Q88, JW Marriott Hotel

Is there a good way to get a bartender’s attention when the bar is crowded?
Empty glasses on the bar top and feel free to call out the bartender’s name.

Tell us your favourite kind of customer, and why?
As far as we care more for our regulars, a new favourite should be the first time/walk-in guests because it’s that moment when we deliver a kind experience that can gain more regulars for the bar.

Your favourite drink to make behind the bar, why?
Anything that shows technicality skills for drink making. At the moment I like making drinks with a piece of new equipment called flavour blaster, it’s a gun that produces bubble filled smoke that sits on top of the drink.

Currently on our menu is a drink called Julie Newmar’s Twilight Zone, a 1950s themed pin-up girls signature menu. Absolut Elyx vodka, strawberry jam, calamansi, smoked maple syrup, activated charcoal, pineapple juice, and egg white. We serve it with a smoked filled bubble in front of the guest along with a lit-up coaster.

Your most hated drink to make behind the bar, why?
I don’t think there’s a particular drink I don’t like making however virgin mojitos is like making a lime soda with mint.

I don’t like to make vodka red bulls and Jägerbombs because it’s not good for you. It makes your bar all sticky and smelly. That is why I tend not to have any of these in our hotel.

Would you judge patrons based on what they order?
In some cases, yes, for example, a young couple that the men would order drinks for his lady. Drinks like rainbow shots or anything that he pretends that he knew most drinks that are time-consuming to make just to make sure he impresses and gets the woman drunk. Or someone asking for a cocktail that has an umbrella garnished with as if we are working at a resort.

If they are disrespectful, what drink would you judge them for ordering?
Vodka red bulls and Jägerbombs, orders mostly from rude and aggressive guests [laughs].

The easiest way to annoy a bartender?
Snapping fingers. Or when we serve a complimentary glass of water while waiting for a drink order but the guest rejects and ask for warm water instead.

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Kamal Tamang, J.Boroski

Kamal Tamang, J.Boroski

Is there a good way to get a bartender’s attention when the bar is crowded?
It’s hard to have a conversation with the guests on a busy night. The best way is they can go through the servers. The servers will tell us what the customers want and if they want to talk with the bartender.

Tell us your favourite kind of customer, and why?
I don’t have a favourite customer. I mean, a customer is a customer, you have to serve them no matter what. But sometimes we get customers from the F&B industry, and I enjoy having them as a customer because they already know what they want to order and I’ll get a chance to learn from them as well.

Your favourite drink to make behind the bar, why? 
I like to make balanced sour-citrusy drinks, and my favourite to make is a basil smash. I like drinking it, and I love serving it as well. It is not very strong, and it is so refreshing. It is citrus, not too sweet, and I like adding my black edible paper as a garnish.

Your most hated drink to make behind the bar, why?
Classic cocktails like the old fashioned, whisky sour, or a Manhattan. It’s much harder to make the classics because it has to be precise. If you make a mistake, the customers won’t like it, and they will call you out for it.

Would you judge patrons based on what they order?
At J. Boroski, the customers are the one who gives us the ingredients. But it can be difficult when a customer is adamant about something that doesn’t go well together, but they would insist. An example they will request for an espresso martini but not with the vodka, they’d ask us to make it with tequila instead. I would tell them that an espresso martini is a classic cocktail and it is better with vodka than a tequila. But if they insist on having it, then I will make it because they are the one paying anyway.

If they are disrespectful, what drink would you judge them for ordering?
We’re here to give them service. And, like, if there are days that we have made any mistakes, then we will be sorry. If someone is really rude, we will still be kind to them but would gladly show them the door.

The easiest way to annoy a bartender?
If you talk rudely and too loudly when I’m busy preparing cocktail orders, I would ask them to please give me a minute, and I’ll get back to them. But they would really get on my nerves if they keep on shouting and talking.

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