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