A hot bartender serenading you while whipping up fantastic cocktails can make all the difference to a night out. Here’s a cheeky note about Bali’s most charming bartenders, written over inebriated nights at various cocktail bars right here, on the island of the Gods by Chris Pesaro. Cover photo from Arief Budiatna.
#5 Hubert George
Due to the multi-award winning reputation of The Pontiac in Hong Kong (currently #32 in 50 Best Bars in Asia, with an impressive four years on the list), I was intrigued to see how Beckaly Franks and her ‘Stardusts’ were going with The Pontiac Stardust in Bali. Located in the middle of Petitenget street, one of the hotspots for restaurants and bars in Seminyak, The Pontiac Stardust has this bohemian-esque rock & roll feel through their venue. I went straight for the cocktail menu, and I chose Hobnail #2; a cocktail that is based on house blend whiskey: Irish and Scotch, with Ponty Jamu ( a local herbal drink), Drambuie, angostura, lemon, orange oil. Humble in its presentation, Hobnail #2 has a complex structure when it comes to flavour. Subtle turmeric, and a slight kick from the ginger that infuses the jamu, gives this short drink a unique flavour that took my palate on a journey of exploration, just as promised by Pontiac Stardust: transcendence. Hubert is an emerging bartender himself, coming from the capital city of Jakarta, his passion for cocktails began at Potato Head Jakarta. He then ventured into the unknown realms of the Bali bar scene eight years ago and joined Savage Kitchen until he found his home at The Pontiac Stardust. A bartender/skater boi, Hubert is keeping things modern and urban behind the bar without forgetting the signature hospitality style of Pontiac: real AF, full of blue-collar spirit yet nonchalant, and girls-rules-the-house. Hubert and his tatts fit in perfectly and the “in the veins” drinks list is right up his street. Contact details here.
#4 Komang Sukradayasa
Bali-bred and raised, Komang (or Koming to his friends) started his bartending career at a very early age during his internship at Rosso Vivo in Kuta. The shy seventeen year old was initially motivated by the chance to make more money, yet the world of hospitality captivated him and has led to a very passionate bartending career. It didn’t take Komang long until he was discovered and hired by Chef Will Goldfarb for his haute-cuisine restaurant, Room 4 Dessert in Ubud. Trained by one of the best chefs in Bali and inspired by Indonesia’s rich history and natural resources, Komang takes pride in creating a cocktail menu using home-grown herbs, spices, and medicinal plants which are all grown in the gardens beside Room 4 Dessert; they are then processed through traditional methods (e.g. claypot fermentation, barrel ageing, etc.). My personal choice from Komang’s menu is called Hardman; it is whiskey-based with spiced caramel water, snake fruit syrup, homemade mangosteen bitters and fresh lime juice which is then stirred, strained, and served on the rocks. Hardman lives up to its name with its bold whiskey base, yet the combination of spiced caramel water, snake fruit and mangosteen bitters definitely highlights the complexity of Indonesian flavours. Be seated at the open bar behind the main dining area and you’ll soon feel that you’re not just visiting a restaurant or a bar, but the home of very talented Indonesian staff, with genuine hospitality. The 21-course revolving restaurant experience includes 8 artisan cocktails matched to the main course of desserts. Final drinks at the back bar is an institution at Room4Dessert and it’s a time to dive deeper into their menu of both the classics and the contemporary. Contact details here.
#3 Daniel Gerves
While occasionally arrogant, yet charming and seductive, Daniel Gerves is an inspiring Indonesian bartender who was raised in Jakarta and fell in love with the art of bartending during his short stint at a coffee and juice bar in his hometown, despite studying banking and having a bright future in professional baseball. With no real idea about cocktails or how to make them, he got offered an entry level position at Immigrant in Jakarta. The high volume bar forced him to learn quickly about cocktails, from Cosmopolitans to the classic Americano; as cliche as it may sound, the passion was ignited and his palate grew more sophisticated during this time. He was given an opportunity to learn and do more when he was managing a small coffee shop in Canggu, where he crafted the bar menu through his creative engineering. As he puts it: “I was a small fish in a big pond, and then I was a big fish in a small pond”; it gave him all the knowledge he needed without any formal education. Daniel developed his skills through experience. Fast forward to now, he works as the beverage manager of Alila Seminyak which includes both their Beach Bar and Seasalt restaurant. Within 5 months, Daniel and Alila’s Head of Mixology, Ayip, created a cocktail menu based on sustainability, zero-waste, and ocean-inspired ingredients; aligned to Seasalt’s seafood-rich menu, its cocktail menu has been created with the mission to recycle the kitchen’s by-products into tasty cocktails. My personal choice: Black Sesame; a twist of the classic Mai Tai using avocado pits that are up-cycled into a syrup; the nutty and toasted flavour gives a unique layer to the popular sweet cocktail. I have to say overall, the tantalisingly perfect view of the Bali sunset at Alila does add another level to the drinking experience.
#2 Sufian Mahmoud
A warm welcoming smile is a signature feature of this Singaporean bartender. It was almost sunset when I arrived at his new gaff, Sundara at Four Seasons Jimbaran. Three weeks into his new position, Sufian plans to shake things up a bit with this sophisticated cocktail menu, starting with an arak-based negroni made from scratch called Arakeroni; the process includes making amaro and vermouth in-house, same with an arak-based gin that is rested in a claypot. Arakeroni, has beautiful subtle notes of cocoa nibs and cascara from the vermouth, and a licorice-forward homemade amaro, a perfect palate cleanser for an aperitivo. It is a strong contender against his Yin & Yang, my all-time favorite chili cocktail from Sufian’s original cocktail list at SugarSand, which uses vodka, elderflower liqueur, and fresh chili. The upcoming program at Sundara will have a combination of Sufian’s modern interpretations of the classics and the existing four eras that make up the menu structure. Balinese Arak is used vastly in the menu, yet Sufian’s craftsmanship changes the common negative view on Arak; it becomes evident that Arak is a very versatile spirit. Sufian started his F&B career in Singapore as a waiter, it was a brief period as he was obligated to register in Singapore’s National Service. Initially motivated by getting more chicks than the other guys from the floor team, Sufian decided to dive head first into the world of bartending. He began at Nektar, a well-known cocktail bar in Singapore back in the day; the experience gave him a unique humility in his approach to each ingredient and spirit. The tenure also saw him inspired by a chef who taught him the meaning of hospitality and its nature, it has stayed with him till now. When he moved to Bali, he immediately gained popularity during his tenure at Hu’u Bar in Seminyak which also fed his interest in Asian-influenced cocktails.
His time at SugarSand in Seminyak saw his skill and reputation grow as his curated menu opened the eyes of many of what can be achieved with Asian-inspired ingredients. At Sundara he has the chance to entertain an increasingly sophisticated crowd and no doubt his smile will win both palettes and hearts. Hit them up for reservations here.
#1 Shah Dillon
40 Thieves – Bali & El Nacional
It is rather hard for me not to put this badass in the list. The local speakeasy which now has become an institution called 40 Thieves, was built by Shah Dillon; a Singaporean bartender who is by far the most charismatic personality I’ve met behind the bar. Shah worked his way up through a series of jobs with different brands, from William Grant & Sons to Sailor Jerry. Fired up by his passion to elevate the cocktail scene in Bali, Shah breaks the mould found in many cocktail bars with his flamboyant hospitality. One never forgets the unique experience, once he or she had been to 40 Thieves; Boogie-woogie tunes, stiff cocktails, the very accommodating bartender cum host that is Shah and his brigade, are the key components that made 40 Thieves the winner of Best Bar in Bali in 2017, chosen by the readers of The Yak magazine. Shah’s approach to cocktails is very direct: well balanced flavours, no-bullshit presentation, and a generous pour in all his cocktails. My personal favourite is 40 Thieves’ Spiced Gimlet, a concoction made with vodka, spice syrup, and lime juice; super simple, garnished with a dried star anise, yet complex in flavour thanks to the spice syrup. Come around on a random night, and Shah will greet you; no matter who you are or where you come from, his hospitality has succeeded in creating a bar that many call a second home in Bali. The second edition to his portfolio isn’t disappointing either, El Nacional houses the biggest collection of rum currently in Indonesia; loosely inspired by the iconic Hotel Nacional de Cuba, El Nacional is the more refined version of the flamboyant hospitality of 40 Thieves. Shah created El Nacional based on his love for rum, pairing it with an offering of Cuban and Indonesian cigars, giving Bali the perfect recipe for a gentleman’s (and gentlewoman’s) night out. Check their Facebook for details.