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					Asian Adventures and Learnings

        Having been encouraged by Audrey many times on many levels I thought I
should give the group a taste of some of my recent and current experiences in Asia.
        As my moniker suggests I am an International Playboy Bartender and traverse
the world training bartenders, writing about drinks and generally being a night owl. I
am lucky and blessed to count such luminaries as Dale, Audrey Dave Wondrich,
Sasha Petraske, Gary Regan, Dick Bradsell, Salvatore Calabrese and many others
among my intimates and colleagues and think I have a relatively steely eyed view on
many matters bartending. I see the pitfalls of focussing entirely upon the ‘purity’ of
the drink or the acrobatics of Flair and see bartending in its many forms around the
world. This is what I have learned, seen or gleaned in recent time in China, Hong
Kong, South Korea and Japan. I offer it to the group for comment, amusement or
enlightenment.
        Although the buzz of sipping martinis overlooking the Harbour and Skyline of
Hong Kong is fabulous the bartending is no great shakes. The bars that are considered
‘worthy’ are The Drop, 1/5th, Vodka Bar and Felix (best bathrooms that’s for sure but
the lavender-infused vodka Seabreezes taste awful) and many of them are merely
apeing London or Sydney bars with fresh fruit martinis abounding. 1/5th is about to
unveil its Avocado Margarita and I will report back on that one…
        China is a huge country with huge potential. In Guang Zhou (the city with the
highest per capita income) whole “Bar Streets” exist but should be avoided. A simple
G&T was served a glass or gin, a glass of tonic, a glass of ice and a perfumed lemon.
The buzzy bar was BabyFace where Chivas bottles were flying around like crazy
(bottle-to-table is a big thing in Asia… its a conspicuous consumption thing) and
where every other person is constantly playing a dice game similar to Liar Dice… you
each have five dice that you roll under a cup, then you declare how many of each
number are ‘up’ on your and your opponent’s dice, then counter declare until one of
you calls the others bluff. All this is done by sign language as the bar is loud and
raucous and the loser then drinks… every bar and very city apparently has its own
rules with wild dice and the like. Its very surreal to see what looks like a convention
of dipsomaniac sign language translators in a loud nightclub… and the old concept of
B-Girls is obviously in effect too..
        Guang Zhou was also where I was introduced to Chinese Wine (aka Ghost
Wine). This locally distilled potion is a bit of a misnomer … up to 140 proof it is the
inebriator of choice for the locals, much like Cachaca and Soju for the Brazilians and
the Koreans. After drinking many things in many countries I have to say it is the
worst thing I have ever consumed. But like Jeffrey Steingarten I am prepared to
continue to explore. Until I find something tho’ NEVER drink this stuff.., especially if
as local tells you its good. Local everywhere always want you to like their local liquor
but also they enjoy seeing a tourist gasp/splutter and generally have to manfully force
the proffered drink down… it’s a universal thing perhaps.
        Shanghai was a tad different… but not much. Half the city (Fu Xing) is ‘sort
of’ the old Shanghai with cobbled streets, The Bund and Glamour (that’s the name of
the best bar as well as the overall feel). The other half (Pu Dong) is almost entirely
new and looks it… the new skyscrapers look like (to paraphrase Dr Johnson) “ New
York and Hong Kong had pupped”. Awesome architecture but supermodel-like…
great to look at but the lights are on but no-one is at home. Stay in Fu Xing and avoid
the worst traffic I have ever encountered (yes, worse than Bangkok, worse than
Bombay, worse even than Lima before my well travelled colleagues interject). But
even then if you try a cocktail you may get a JD on crushed ice as an answer to your
plea for an Old Fashioned. China is also the only country in the world where I have
seen Advocaat and the Snow Ball on every cocktail list…
        Oh and a bartender in China was interested in me talking about Savoury
Cocktails and was interested as he has been working a lot with Chicken Blood… exit
stage left pursued by a bear…
        Seoul… don’t. TGIF is the best place there and no-one speaks English. This
on my second visit so don’t assume me hasty. But the bartenders are keen and the
people lovely… maybe my sessions on the Aviation, the Breakfast Martini and the
Pear Collins may not fall upon stony ground tho’…
        Japan. Well, actually Tokyo… Nirvana, Bliss. Heaven. The Mecca for
bartenders and the Holy Grail of Mixologists. Now I see what Sasha Petraske is all
about.
        Process. Ritual. Ceremony. Drinking as pleasure and not pursuit. My
companion ( a fellow bartender) said he felt as if he was on another planet. I am not
sure if I was seeing the future of Bartending or the equivalent of Japanese soldiers
appearing from the forests of the Philippines 40 years after the war had ended. Ice
picks. Single ice cubes individually shaped to fit a glass. No commercial ice machines
anywhere. Arrays of spirits (especially Bourbons and Malts) that we would all die for.
Bars with 5 bartenders that fit 20 people. Bars that fit seven people only where the
owner has been bartending there every night for the last 38 years (1 night off a month)
and a customer has been going there every night for 30 years (now that’s a regular)…
where do I begin… maybe just the highlights…

But only if you are all reading this self indulgent drivel…

				
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posted:10/1/2012
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