Known as the ‘King of Garnish’, Marian Beke of Nightjar London made his debut in Hong Kong for an exciting three-night Snow Leopard cocktail sessions at Ori-gin, Quinary and The Envoy. Marian is famous for the innovative and lavish garnishes he adds to his drinks. Drinks World Asia sat down with him to find out more about how he got into the industry, his philosophy of cocktail making and his view of Snow Leopard.
Can you share with us your background and your journey into the bartending world?
MARIAN BEKE: Born in Slovakia, I was first introduced to the world of bars when I was 10 or 11. My father, who was in the wine business, had this wine cellar. Back then, there were no cocktail bars. For me, the wine cellar equated to a bar. Then I went to a hotel school. It wasn’t until after a trip to an American-style cocktail bar in Prague that I realised there’s more to bartending. I saw a bartender making coffee, serving the wine and food, crafting cocktails, and I got inspired.
So I went back home and moved to the capital, Bratislava. There, I worked at one of the Western cocktail bars, Paparazzi. It was a great experience, and after a couple of years, I decided to leave to enhance my craft. Within months, I moved to London and got my start as a barback. From some clubs, I went to work at Townhouse then at Montgomery Place. It was whilst working here that I began doing bartending and travelling. That was like eight or nine years ago. At that time, guest bartending didn’t exist. After Montgomery, I did stints at the Artesian and Purl.
How did you end up working at Nightjar? Basically, what is the bar’s philosophy?
MB: I had been in touch with the guys at Nightjar. They were about to open the bar and the way they spoke about the place, it reminded me of Montgomery. So I took the job as Bar Manager and helped set up the place and find the team. I’ve been working with the same team for five years now. For me, the most important thing is people. That’s why at Nightjar, we invested in training our staff so they won’t leave.
Prohibition bars are all about classic drinks. In the end, it’s a question of how you make your venue different from others. That’s why we started playing with homemade products, garnishes and different vessels as well as shopping ourselves (we don’t go to normal suppliers as other bars do). London has a lot of shops, so we scout the stores to find the ingredients we need.
Preparation is also part of our strategy to differentiate our venue. We start prepping in the morning and even have a prep guy assigned every day. It’s a staff rotation, and whoever is assigned starts at 8 and finishes at 6.
Tell us about the menu at Nightjar.
MB: Our current menu is categorised into the important eras of time – Pre-Prohibition, Prohibition, Post-War and Signatures – and it’s changed twice a year.
Do you agree that bartending can be a profession? It’s just that in the past two years, bartenders in Hong Kong have realised that it can be a career and a life, and in the last 12 months, many of them started to move and travel.
MB: I understand that Hong Kong is a nice city, similar to Singapore. I don’t see people really moving. They’ve got a good base here.
What’s your philosophy of bartending or cocktail making?
MB: Bartending is very simple. It literally means tending the bar. You work behind the bar, making sure the customers get their drinks quick and are happy. When it comes to cocktail making, each bar should have their own identity. Maybe that is what’s missing these days. I mean if you do something new or cool, it comes on Facebook the next day, and some new bars will copy it. You can see the same drinks in other venues. So I always try to find some inspiration from chefs because they come out with innovative ideas.
Can you tell us about the drinks that you’re going to make in Hong Kong?
MB: Since I’m doing the sessions for three nights at different bars, I divided the cocktails I’m going to craft into three categories: aperitif, long and fresh (this is a little bit local) and digestive (creamy, eggy and sweet). This way, customers will have a variety of drinks to taste and enjoy