When Asia's 50 Best Bars was announced on Mar 31, the Bamboo Bar at Mandarin Oriental came no. 34. Now, they have a new head man in town: Jamie Rhind, former bartender at The Artesian in London's Langham hotel, which ranked no. 1 in World's 50 Best Bars in 2014 and 2015. Here, he tells us about what he has planned for the Bangkok institution.
So tell us a bit about yourself: where and when did your bar career get started?
Like a lot of people, I fell into the job. In my hometown of Ipswich, working in a bar is very much a job you do between school and getting a “proper” job. My first job in the industry was at a local hotel called the Salthouse Harbour Hotel working as a waiter. I’m surprised I got the job, I didn’t even know what a scallop was on my first day! However, after a year when I turned 18, they put me behind the bar. This was my first experience playing with spirits, tasting them and learning more about them. This was the point when I knew I wanted to be involved in this industry.
How did you transition from that to taking the profession seriously?
After working behind the bar for a few months, I moved to London for a month to attend The London Bar School. There I learn so much, not just about cocktails, but about the whole experience the guest expects when they come to the bar. From product knowledge and service to how to run a bar, I started to understand there was more to the job than just making drinks. The more time I spent in London, the more I realized I needed to move there to improve myself and kickstart my career.
What do you love the most about being behind the bar?
I love putting a smile on the guests' faces. You can’t replace that feeling when someone approaches you and tells you what a great time they had in your bar. It’s not just about the cocktails you serve them. It’s about surprising them, delivering great service and creating an “experience” for the guests.
Tell us a bit about your days working with the Artesian. What is it like working in the "World's Best Bar"?
I came to the Artesian as a waiter/barback, but after a couple of months the management decided they wanted me purely on the floor. I quickly learned the five-star hotel standard of service, however that bar was very unique in the way it worked. The level of service was there, but it had a fun, relaxed twist. It seemed to suit the clientele of the bar: businessmen and women who have high expectations, but at 5pm just want to relax with a drink after work. The four years I spent working at the Artesian were unforgettable. The guys were masters in creation, and we complemented that with the service on the floor.
So what brings you to Bangkok?
I have a friend who works here at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok in the F&B department, who I met at the London Bar School. He contacted me for advice about how to get the bar global recognition and hopefully get in the Drinks International’s World’s Top 50 Bars. So the conversion went on to the job which was available at the bar, and here we are!
What are your thoughts about the Bangkok cocktail scene?
I love the bar scene here, it reminds me of what it was like in London: even though the bars are rivals in a business sense, we are all friends. It seems like a tight community here and I love that. There’s also a good range of bars here, all offering a different concept so as a consumer you have your pick.
What’s your cocktail style?
I think the bar scene globally is all about innovation. Creating flavors and using ingredients people haven’t heard of before. I spoke recently to a chef and we agreed that in the future the bartender should be called Chef de Bar. This is my sort of style, trying combinations which people wouldn’t even imagine using, like the dried capers and horchata in our new “Future” cocktail, which celebrates our position on the list of Asia's 50 Best Bars.
What are your favorite cocktails? And what do you order most when you go out?
You never forget where you come from! Being from England and Ipswich in particular, you grown up around beer and ale. On a nice hot day, get me any sort of beer, I’ll drink it! If I’m visiting cocktail bars, my go-to drink at the moment is an old fashioned or a perfect Manhattan.
What plan do you have for Bamboo Bar?
Now that would be telling! I have a fantastic team here already, so it will be minor changes to improve our productivity if anything. We will soon be starting on a new cocktail menu which will be produced from ideas from all the team—waiters and waitresses included. This menu will look to create an experience for the guests using the body’s five senses. That’s all I’m saying.
Bamboo Bar, Mandarin Oriental Bangkok