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Ask a bartender: John Nugent of Lily & Bloom

Written by
Holly Graham

Fresh off the boat John Nugent is Lily & Bloom's new head mixologist. Hailing from Seattle and new to Asia, Nugent is known for putting innovative twists on old classics. We grill him and get the low down on what makes him tick. 

Tell us about your first bartending job.
I was the lunchtime bartender at high end seafood restaurant. The cocktails we made were shit but I idolised the night bartenders and learned a lot.

What’s a must-have bottle in your arsenal?
If there isn't a bottle of some sort of American whiskey behind the bar and some vermouth, then I’m an angry baby. 

Tell us about a cocktail experiment that failed spectacularly.
I was trying to make shot cups out of chocolate and I just couldn't do it. They always melted and got messy. I will try again soon though. 

What’s the one cocktail you’ve created that you’ll always love?
Very Old Cow. It’s made from mezcal, Aperol, Punt e Mes (Italian vermouth), Maraschino and a dash of Peychaud's bitters. It's been with me for six years now, been on multiple menus and it’s delicious. Dumbest name on the planet but that was the name I agreed to.

What should/shouldn’t we order from you? 
Order whatever you want and I'll be happy to make it for you, but if you order a Bloody Mary, I might check my watch and remind you it's 9pm on a Friday night, not 11am on Sunday morning.

How do you deal with tough customers?
It's a loaded question because they are many different kinds of customers, but I just try to empathetic. Sometimes you're being a jerk because you have a bad week or tired and I can totally relate. Most people just want someone to listen to them sober or otherwise, and I’m happy to be that someone.

What cocktail trends are you seeing in Hong Kong?
Milk Punch and fun ways to do large format cocktails, but I'm new in town so I’m just trying to see what all the cool kids are doing too.

Nugent's own English Milk Punch

What cocktail trend do you wish would die?
I think cocktail trends just bug me. Fads come and go, but good service with balanced delicious cocktails will always have a place in this world.

When you’re not behind the bar, what do you like to drink and where?
The Pontiac will always hold a special place in my heart as it was the first bar I drank at in Hong Kong, bartender Ana Souza is my roommate and I just love the staff there. The boys over at Stockton treat me really well too - I feel special every time I go in. Salon 10 is hands down one of my fave bars of all time and Bar 42 is my dirty little secret. 

What are your favourite ingredients at the moment?
Anything from this part of the world. I just moved here and I am enamoured with all these ingredients that are new to me. I tried pandan for the first time recently and now it’s on my cocktail menu.

What spirit/drink do you think is under appreciated?
I always think vermouth is under utilised but probably Benedictine. That stuff is so good, I would pour on it pancakes. As far as cocktails go, please people order more 50/50 gin martinis with a twist. It'll change your life.

What was your worst bar injury?
I wrestled a guy outside of my bar in Boston. My left ankle hasn't been the same since.

What do other bartenders do to piss you off?
I try not to be such a curmudgeon about stuff like technique, service and knowledge but sometimes I just can't help myself. I really enjoy watching when a bartender enjoys their job and passes that energy onto their guest. It sucks if they do the opposite.

What would someone have to do to get kicked out of your bar?
I’m like a dancer at gentleman's club. I can touch you but you can't touch me. No, but seriously, the universal rule is don’t be a dick. If you break that rule, be prepared to leave.

The world is about to end. What’s your last drink going to be?
Hardest question ever. I would care less about drinks but more about the company I keep. If I had terrible light beer and awful whiskey and I was surrounded by the people I love, that would be cool. Maybe a negroni, maybe a good beer...who knows?

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