Gossip and whispers abound. A top class bar in Hong Kong(henceforth referred to as The Bar-not to be confused with that lawyer’s watering hole on Staunton St.), closed several months for ‘renovations’, is rumoured to have shut down for good. The reason? Who’s to say? Nobody but the owner can say for sure. If the bartenders know, then they’ve kept shtum, despite the fact that every single one has already found new work at other bars.
Looking at the event individually, it is a travesty. The Bar was one of the top rated bars in Hong Kong, classy right from the beautiful terrace, to the marble bar-top, down to the bar manager’s fancy cuff links. No jaegerbombs to be found here, thank-you-very-much. Instead, the bartenders had at their disposal a diverse and eclectic range of spirits, wine and beer, and they weren’t afraid to pour the really nice stuff into a mixing glass. The team itself was comprised of star-studded, talented bartenders, many of whom have either won major cocktail competitions, or finished in the top few ranks. In a city where the title ‘mixologist’ *shudder* can genuinely apply to only a handful, The Bar was home to a unusually high number of them.
And it’s especially because of this that I think, in the big picture, the closure of this bar is a good thing for the Hong Kong cocktail scene. Look at, for example, what has happened already so far; four top bartenders, now in four different locations. The fact of the matter is that despite being an extremely talented crew, The Bar gave the team little opportunity to pass their knowledge and experience on. The bar was no more than 10-12ft long, meaning that there was little room for an apprentice to join the ranks, even if just to clean the glassware or restock the fridges. That’s not to say that even if there was a junior bartender he would be able to learn anything. When you have a team of superstars, who’s going to bite the bullet and take responsibility for training?
Compare that instead to the current situation. A couple of the bartenders have moved into a management role at locations not yet very well known for their drink program. These establishments have to have a group of staff, whether they be old hands at the trade, or bright-eyed bushy-tailed newcomers. Both have the motive and opportunity to learn from the best, and hopefully they will, in a few years, move on to become bar managers elsewhere, and then pass on the skills of mixing to another generation.
It brings to mind the story behind the cocktail revivalist movement in America. In the 1980’s, Dale Degroff was pretty much the only person taking any care in cocktails. His trainee bartender, Audrey Sanders, left to start her own bar, where she trained several bartenders, who in turn left and trained others still. Hopefully, the same will happen in Hong Kong, bolstering the number of talented bartenders in this city.