The science of mixology

IF you frequent cocktail bars around the Klang Valley, you might have noticed Joel Poon for his flamboyant bar-tending skills.

Having previously worked in the now-defunct Case Study in APW Bangsar and later Birch in Damansara City Mall, Poon is currently doing consultation for an up-and-coming bar in Penang.

How were you introduced to the world of bar-tending?

I had three influences: my university lecturer Gobein Selva, industry gurus like Ben Ng, Timothy Anthony, and Joshua Ivanovic, and social media. My lecturer is a passionate individual who always wants his students to achieve and excel in the hospitality industry – he’s always getting us involved with hands-on experience, teaching, and guiding us. As for the industry gurus, they took me in and taught me everything I needed to know about bar-tending. Lastly, social media – it’s such a powerful tool in this era that whatever information you need is just a click away.

What attracted you to it?

It all began in university. Whenever it came to beverage studies, I have always been fascinated with what goes into a glass, the production of different kinds of spirits, where and how it’s made, and so on. My curiosity grew and I became hungry for knowledge even till today.

What was the deciding factor for you to pursue bar-tending?

Being able to talk to girls at the bar all the time is a big plus. Kidding! Jokes aside, I always find bartenders to be the centre of attention with the charisma, confidence, and a huge influence towards people. I remember once, I was dining in TGI Fridays and the bartender was putting up a show. He was chatting with guests, making drinks, and everyone was amused by his showmanship. That’s when I told myself: I want to be that guy!

How has your journey in bar-tending been like?

When I first started bar-tending, I wasn’t working in any particular establishment. I was more towards the event side of things. Places I’ve worked at included clubs, hotels, and private functions for brands. But in terms of a full-on bar experience, it goes to The Library in Singapore. It was a game-changing experience being in an environment with really passionate individuals from managers to bar, floor, and kitchen staff, and fellow industry mates in Singapore. It’s been an amazing journey thus far and I look forward to the future. People do ask me: “How are you still in the industry? Isn’t it tiring?”

It is, but my passion and love for it keeps me going, and I don’t see myself leaving the industry at all. Even if I do, it’s going to be related to the beverage industry.

What’s your signature drink to make?

I don’t have a signature, but I do believe that I would like to be able to cater to everyone’s preference and demands. I want to have a penchant for crafting whimsical and intriguing concoctions in sync with a flamboyant style of bar-tending, akin to a performer on stage. Essentially, I love pushing the boundaries of flavours, expanding methods and techniques, and put on a good show while I make a guest’s drink.

Myth or fact: Is it true that bartenders make good therapists?

In a way, yes. Bartenders meet people from all walks of life – every shift is not the same because you’ll never know who would walk through that door. It could be a regular who walks in and share their recent happenings, or it could be a complete stranger who has the potential to be your next best friend or future business partner, or even someone sharing their sorrows. In a way, bartenders can also offer opinions from a different perspective. We are good listeners too!

Currently you do more consultation for bars. Can you tell us more about that?

I take up clients based on their direction of the place, be it a new or old establishment.

Creating, improvising, and overseeing the development is part of the job scope, whether at the frontline or back end of the business.