Employees Only, one of the world’s best bars, is finally opening up in Hong Kong. Already a favourite in New York and Singapore, the bar is a beloved industry-insider haunt, and that means two things: killer drinks, and late hours.
Ahead of their official opening next week, #legend spoke with three of the Employees Only bartenders, Jameel Frith (JF), Sean Marino (SM) and Zbigniew “Zibi” Zapert (ZZ) about what really happens behind the bar.
What are the most common issues people talk to bartenders about?
JF: Only well informed opinions about the daily hot topic. Never common
SM: Their jobs, local sports, spouses or prospects, the weather
ZZ: Jobs, sex and the geopolitical situation of the world
Do bartenders enjoy this unofficial part of their job?
JF: I love it, it adds a dash of flavour to the night!
SM: Yes, it’s an entry way, and from there we can navigate to more substantial conversations. That is what allows us to get to know guests, and make them feel at home
ZZ: Most of the time, unless someone is a whiny little b*tch who only comes to complain
What do you tell a man who comes in with a broken heart?
JF: What’s up, welcome. My name is Jameel. Here’s a glass of water. A cocktail menu, take your time. I’ll be with you in a few
SM: I'll offer sympathies for a split second, take his mind off of it with a drink and conversation and then try to introduce him to some female regulars at the bar
ZZ: Three things: to find himself some friends and have some fun at Employees Only; to have some beer and few shots of bourbon – it might not help, but who knows and to try and just chill, enjoy the coming months with as many women/men as possible
What about a woman?
JF: What’s up, welcome. My name is Jameel. Here’s a glass of water. A cocktail menu, take your time. I’ll be with you a few
SM: I'll offer my sympathies for a bit longer, then I'll make her a cocktail with muddled cucumber and mint, lemon juice, St. Germain, gin or vodka, and serve it in a martini glass with a splash of prosseco and a lemon twist. I’ll do it front of them as they watch every step. The finale, when the twist is expressed and the mint pops to the top, it always shows you care. Works every time
ZZ: To have three classic Champagne cocktails and half a dozen oysters and chateaubriand with lobster followed by strawberry cheesecake— it’s ok if you eat only half of all that, but you should really try it all. Then, order the most luxurious taxi back home and go to bed with another glass of champagne, but without any random guys from that night. In the morning, have three gourmet cupcakes for breakfast and get a full body massage at a five star spa
What do you guys do to cure a broken heart?
JF: I like Tequila
ZZ: Start praying everyday and trust your god…or go on a tropical holiday – one of them is always the answer
If someone had a rough day at work, what’s the advice you’d give?
JF: Eye contact head nod. Beer and a shot
SM: You're here now, sitting and relaxing at the bar, don't stress about it. It’s why we all go out after work: to relax, not think about it for a while, have good conversation with others and to have a great night
ZZ: Everybody has rough days. Tomorrow might be worse, or better, or the same. If you don’t like your work - change it!
What drink should you order when you’ve had a long day and you want to relax?
JF: Beer and two fingers of your chosen spirit
ZZ: Start with beer and maybe follow it with a strong Whiskey cocktail. Or, go for Champagne followed by a gin cocktail if you don’t like beer. If you are in Australia or South America, where beer is not the greatest, just start with an Americano, and if you are in the tropics at beach bar, then fresh coconut with white rum, followed by another one and ask your bartender to play the soundtrack from The Big Lebowski.
What about when you’ve had a terrible day and you need a pick-me-up?
JF: Kingston Daiquri
ZZ: You shouldn’t be looking for solutions in alcohol. Having said that – a double shot of mezcal served next to a double espresso won’t do any harm. If you are in Eastern Europe, then go for a room temperature vodka, pork lard sandwich and fermented gherkin
What do you tell someone who seems nervous before a first date?
JF: Be your worst. It only gets better from there
SM: Don’t stress about it, I'll make sure the spot is saved and you guys will have a great night once she gets here. And lets share a shot of this cool new cocktail I've been working on before she gets in so you have something to recommend
ZZ: To her— don’t stress, you look amazing and if that guy is a f*ck-up I’ll come to the rescue. To him— you don’t deserve that woman! Frankly, you don’t deserve any woman if you are afraid of dating
Do you step in when a date is going badly, and what do you do?
SM: Never. I only observe it all
ZZ: I do not, unless agreed beforehand with the girl
What are your favourite words of wisdom?
JF: Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.
SM: Lets have fun
ZZ: Eat well, travel often, there is no life after death. (Created by a great Polish philosopher in the making)
What drinks do you always recommend?
JF: Oaxaca Old-Fashioned and Americano riffs
SM: Old Pal, Aviation and a Hemingway Daiquiri
Should you have a signature drink?
JF: Me, no. Already enough chefs in the kitchen
SM: Its good to always have go-to's for certain occasions (again see above), but more than that the approach and command of all the aspects of great hospitality should always carry the day no matter what cocktail you're making
ZZ: No, you should have a signature menu!
What do certain drinks say about a person?
SM: I honestly never judge. It takes too much out of you when theres always something else to do and someone else to take care of
ZZ: Nothing! Different people like different drinks
Employees Only Hong Kong opens June 22. Catch these bartenders at their new home, 19 Lan Kwai Fong, Central.