SPIR­ITED AWAY

Joe Alessan­droni has his fin­ger on the pulse when it comes to spir­its, cock­tails and glam­orous bars

Wine & Dine - - CONTENTS - IN­TER­VIEW JOYCELINE TULLY

What’s a spirit evan­ge­list, we ask Joe Alessan­droni five min­utes af­ter we meet. It’s a le­git­i­mate ques­tion. Apart from a more glam­orous ti­tle as cre­ative di­rec­tor of Crafty, the team re­spon­si­ble for Proof & Co’s group of venue, Alessan­droni also wears the hat of said ‘spirit evan­ge­list’.

“Mostly it en­tails a lot of re­search and devel­op­ment,” he an­swers. “So we come up with ev­ery­thing from the con­cept to the bev­er­age menu, to co­or­di­nat­ing with the de­sign­ers on the lay­out and equip­ment. We kind of co­or­di­nate the whole project to­gether and help build bars that are then ready to be passed off to ta­lented bar teams. We give them the tools they need to suc­ceed.”

But it’s not all R&D for the 39-yearold, who started in the busi­ness more than 15 years ago as a bar­tender in the US and worked his way up to a long string of ac­co­lades. Alessan­droni still likes to get be­hind the bar, and makes an ef­fort to do so once a week at Ju­nior, the in­ti­mate 12-seater pocket bar on Cook Street in Tan­jong Pa­gar.

The bulk of his time, how­ever, is taken up with over­see­ing projects and con­cept devel­op­ment for clients, such as Man­hat­tan, which re­cently raced up the rank­ings to be­come the world’s num­ber 3 bar, ac­cord­ing to The World’s

50 Best Bars. Then there is the muchtalked-about rein­ven­tion of the Raf­fles Sling for the newly re­launched Long Bar at the Raf­fles Ho­tel, and work on the rest of the prop­erty’s wa­ter­ing holes. Along­side, Alessan­droni is also busy with Jerry, “a pretty com­pre­hen­sive on­line bev­er­age train­ing plat­form that’s cov­er­ing ev­ery­thing from spir­its knowl­edge to cock­tail op­er­a­tions and lead­er­ship and sort of back of the house stuff.”

It is plenty to keep one busy, but he man­aged to squeeze in some time for a quick catch up.

Tell us about your work with Long Bar.

Most of the time what we’re re­ally look­ing to do with the con­cept is to cre­ate a con­text for why peo­ple should be there. Usu­ally when you’re start­ing from scratch, that’s one of the big­gest chal­lenges— cre­at­ing a sense of place, a feel­ing. It is not of­ten you get a bar that al­ready has a his­tory and a sense of place and tra­di­tion. That I got to be a part of that with this project and sort of help bring it into the mod­ern age of bars is re­ally re­ally cool, kind of a once-in-a-life­time ex­pe­ri­ence.

What’s the most chal­leng­ing bit about be­ing a spirit evan­ge­list?

Know­ing when to let go. We work be­hind the scenes and we’re there to help set peo­ple up for suc­cess. But ul­ti­mately these bars will be­come great bars when some­body is there ev­ery­day putting their heart and soul into it, putting their per­son­al­ity into it. It’s not ours to run.

Do you miss hav­ing a bar of your own?

Oc­ca­sion­ally. But I don’t miss the 4am clos­ing time. I now have the best of both worlds where I stay in­volved with ta­lented in­dus­try peo­ple, I get to work on ex­cit­ing new con­cepts and see them come to life—but I am not the guy that gets called at 2am when the dish­washer breaks.

So what’s your favourite cock­tail now?

Tommy’s Mar­garita, which is sim­ply good tequila, fresh lime and agave nec­tar. It re­ally high­lights the dif­fer­ence be­tween dif­fer­ent tequi­las. It’s sim­ple, but it’s all about the ex­e­cu­tion and get­ting the bal­ance just right. And ev­ery­one is go­ing to taste a bit dif­fer­ent, be­cause the bal­ance of the tequila is go­ing to come out in dif­fer­ent ways.

What’s the most ex­otic spirit in your port­fo­lio right now?

The most ex­otic is prob­a­bly some of the raicilla we carry. Raicilla is a lesser known cousin to mez­cal and tequila. It’s made with wild grown agaves and re­ally rus­tic pro­duc­tion meth­ods. So you get some re­ally wild flavours that you don’t see so of­ten in the spir­its world. We bring in a few of them, in­clud­ing La Ve­nenosa Raicilla Sierre del Ti­gre, which smells like blue cheese and tastes like choco­late­cov­ered cher­ries. It’s richer in com­plex­ity, it’s funky, it’s just not some­thing you taste ev­ery­day… You drink it mostly neat; it’s kind of a sip­ping spirit.

What’s your pet peeve when you walk into a bar?

Clut­ter, dirty glass­ware that hasn’t been cleared. Maybe I no­tice things that other peo­ple don’t see, but to me, all those things take away from the ex­pe­ri­ence.

What do you score top marks for?

Con­sis­tency. What re­ally sets a great bar apart from a good one is be­ing able to de­liver that same guest ex­pe­ri­ence over and over. There are a lot of places where you go one time, you come back and it’s not as good as you re­mem­bered it some­how.

Be­ing able to cre­ate that con­sis­tent ex­pe­ri­ence means that you’re con­stantly im­prov­ing. For some­body to get the same sat­is­fac­tion from the same ex­pe­ri­ence means that you’re con­stantly im­prov­ing. It’s a real achieve­ment to cre­ate a place that your guests can re­turn to and al­ways feel like they want to come back again—be­cause there are a lot of choices out there.

What’s most un­der­ated in a bar?

The light­ing and mu­sic. You of­ten don’t no­tice it when it’s good, it’s only when it’s off that it both­ers you for one rea­son or an­other. But get­ting the light­ing ab­so­lutely right can re­ally set the tone and cover up other gritty bits… I’ve been in some great bars around the world, that in the full light of day are ac­tu­ally quite rough around the edges.

But if you get the light­ing just right, it makes peo­ple feel good, it makes them com­fort­able and re­laxed. It makes them feel sexy. If you get the light­ing just right, any room can be pretty el­e­gant and feel com­fort­able.

Your own bars and the bars you’ve worked on not with­stand­ing, name one bar that has con­sis­tently de­liv­ered that great ex­pe­ri­ence for you.

Em­ploy­ees Only. Ev­ery time I walk in the door, there’s good en­ergy, the staff is happy, the staff is en­gaged, and it just has a cer­tain vibe to it.

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