Manhattan Tells us What it Takes to Run Asia’s Best Bar

May 16, 2018

For several years now, a bar in Regent Singapore, A Four Seasons Hotel, has been nabbing the top spot in the much-lauded Asia’s 50 Best Bars list. The space is immense and outfitted to transport one to New York decades past. But what makes Manhattan so special are their excellent drinks, and the people behind the bar that make them. Led by Filipino head bartender Cedric Mendoza and assistant bar manager Gab Carlos, and bar manager Philip Bischoff, Manhattan houses the world’s first in-hotel rickhouse, which ages house-made cocktails, spirits, and bitters.

In this interview, Bischoff tells us about what makes an ‘Asia’s Best Bar’, and reveals more secrets about Manhattan’s innovative outlook regarding Asia’s cocktail culture.

What makes an ‘Asia’s Best Bar’? 

Our strongest asset is our team. They make all the difference in ensuring our guests have a memorable experience. It boils down to our Four Seasons Golden Rule of having people who, by nature, believe in treating others as we would have them treat us. At the end of the day, all we really want to do is make great cocktails and provide exceptional experiences for our guests. A bar’s interiors can be stunning, the beverage program can be outstanding, but without any heart into all of it, there’s no life. That’s exactly what our people do. They are the beating heart of Manhattan and they keep the pulse going. They are the very reason why our guests keep coming back for more.

How does Your location in singapore affect the way you view and operate your bar?

Asia’s bar scene right now is one of the most vibrant, up and coming ones. We have many great local talents here in Singapore and together, they are building a strong scene and have attracted plenty of internationally renowned bartenders from the industry. Having been in Singapore now for close to three years, I find that we are starting to see more bars in Asia being recognized, and that is encouraging because we do have some of the very best talents here that the world needs to know about! Being part of Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, this is also a reflection of how hotel bars are shifting from the conventional and offering unique experiences which guests are constantly looking for. It is an exciting time to be part of it and I look forward to things to come.

What other trends in the Asian cocktail scene do you think are important to look at, and can influence the cocktail culture globally?

  • Sustainability will be all around. Bars and bartenders will be more and more aware of their environment (best example Native in Singapore, where Vijay and his team are using every bit of their natural products they use for cocktails).
  • Low ABV cocktails.
  • Even low-calorie cocktails – creating awareness of what people are drinking (newest trend I heard via Erik Lorincz and one of his new projects).
  • Education—guests are getting more and more knowledgeable about what they are consuming and they want to learn more, preferably directly from those in the industry themselves.

How personal is your bar’s process when it comes to creating a cocktail? Do ingredients or ideas come first?

A lot of work goes behind the development of our menu at Manhattan. Since our launch, we have enhanced the menu a few times; each time to introduce fresh cocktails and bar bites that are reflective of the various districts in Manhattan, New York. Manhattan bar is inspired by the Golden Age of cocktails—our goal is to introduce the classic cocktails, with our own twist. The entire team is involved in the process of developing the menu. As Manhattan’s menu is categorized by the various districts, for a start, the team will decide on a specific district that we will showcase and do intensive research on the nuances of the neighborhood—each drink or food item featured on the menu has a story behind it. For example, new on the Chelsea district menu is the Tippler’s Crippler cocktail;  nestled under New York’s famous Chelsea Market is The Tippler cocktail bar and lounge, steeped in 100-year-old history and known for its menu of spirit-forward cocktails, including The Crippler, a mean concoction of alcohol-only ingredients. A tribute to this iconic joint, Tippler’s Crippler is sweet, sharp, slightly dry, and by far the strongest most “crippling” drink on Manhattan’s menu. Once the the bar and kitchen teams are ready with the menu items, a tasting will be organized with other key stakeholders within the Hotel (General Manager, Hotel Manager, Executive Chef, Public Relations team, beverage consultant, etc.) to do refinements, if necessary (e.g. presentation of the item, flavor profile, etc.). Essentially, every item on the menu is done through a collaborative effort within various departments of the Hotel. Earlier this year, we rolled out an entirely new menu focused on the different eras of New York.

What cocktail on your menu now kind of embodies the spirit of Manhattan?

The Solera-aged Negroni. Manhattan is home to the world’s first in-hotel rickhouse, where we barrel-age our own cocktails. Think fractional aging. Originally started with and still being practiced today with sherries to maintain consistency over different vintages, the Solera system of aging, developed by the Spanish and Portuguese, is blending at its best. Here’s how it works: wines, or in Manhattan’s case, cocktails, are stored in barrels and fractions of the contents of the oldest barrels are combined with pulls from newer barrels to create a cohesive house blend. Over the years, you’ll find a multitude of maturity levels within the Solera system as the spirit or cocktail that is removed from the oldest cask is replaced with the cocktail in the second oldest cask. The result? A sophisticated blend of young and old that brings depth, character, complexity and roundness into your glass.

What’s more important, experience/atmosphere/service or great drinks?

I think they all need to come together brilliantly. In essence, a stunning atmosphere, delicious drinks and great service will deliver an amazing experience for the guest. But it still all boils down to the people. It is the personal touches and the relationships formed that make all the difference.

Is there a cocktail, classic or modern that you wish you had invented?

There are many great drinks that became a legacy over decades, but if I have to choose a drink on a sunny day like this then it would most likely be a Mojito or a classic Daiquiri. These amazingly refreshing drinks are classics all over the world, regardless, if they are on a menu or not.

People always spill their secrets to the bartender. What’s the most outrageous story you’ve heard?

But it’s a secret!

First alcoholic experience?

That would cause trouble… No, not really. I think as a very little child I dipped my pinky into the foam of my parent’s beer during meal times. When I was six, my mum and dad cooked an amazing coq au vin, but completely forgot that I would eat that as well. First time I volunteered for bedtime after lunch. First real drinking experience was at the age of 14 for a celebration. It was a Campari Orange and I have to admit, my taste buds were not ready for this. It took me awhile to appreciate this delightful refreshing drink. These days, the Garibaldi at Caffè Dante in New York is one of my favorite drinks.

Give us your best hangover remedy.

One of the best ever recoveries after a solid night out was a clear fish head ginseng soup in Shanghai. I felt like a newborn after. In general I do like miso soups as part of the hangover remedy.


Pamela Cortez Pamela Cortez

Pamela Cortez writes about food full-time, and has honed her craft while writing for publications such as Rogue, Town and Country, and The Philippine Star. She once rode on a mule for a mile just to eat mint tea and lamb in Morocco, and has eaten a block of Quickmelt in one sitting. Her attempt at food photography can be viewed online @meyarrr.

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