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Three Men With Ernest Intensions: James Tamang Talks About Opening Hong Kong’s The Old Man

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James Tamang, co-owner of The Old Man

As the bad boy of American literature, Ernest Hemingway developed a reputation for his love of booze and women. It’s this first love that is the inspiration behind the newest venture from Agung Prabowo, Roman Ghale and James Tamang. Their upcoming venue, The Old Man, will unite elements of Cuban and Asian style to create a space with a stylish, old-world feel. Co-owner James Tamang gave Drinks World the low down on Hong Kong’s newest bar, from how the idea started to what to expect from the carefully crafted cocktail menu.

DRINKS WORLD: Tell us about the team behind The Old Man?

JAMES TAMANG: The Old Man is the dream of renowned bartender Agung Prabowo, ‘King of the Smile’ Roman Ghale and myself, the enthusiastic James Tamang.

Everyone in town knows Mr. Prabowo and his established career. Prior to his arrival in Hong Kong, Agung led Mandarin Oriental bar in Jakarta. He was a leading bartender of Hong Kong’s Landmark Mandarin Oriental MO bar and he is known for his extraordinary work at Lobster bar Shangri La hotel as well. Most recently, Agung was managing the entire bar and beverage program of Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Hong Kong. Agung is a bartender for life, and his passion comes from deep inside his heart.

Roman Ghale started working in Hong Kong in 1994 and since then he has assisted on the opening of Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Hong Kong and Upper House, Hong Kong. Roman is renowned for his outstanding customer service skills. Most of our guests already know him. His welcoming, ‘Hello!’ and warm smile are the reasons why guests love Roman.

I’ve been in the Hong Kong bartending scene for the last decade and so I’d had a fair amount of work experience before joining forces with Agung and Roman. I managed the bars at The Mira Hotel in Kowloon Side; apparently, know as ‘the dark side’. My expertly crafted drinks list alongside the support of my hardworking colleagues allowed me to turn the Vibes & Room One into a prominent drinking destination in Hong Kong. I’ve also hosted various international bartenders in Hong Kong for guest shifts. My most recent work was for Marriott Group at the Renaissance Hotel, where I assisted in developing the cocktail program for bar.

DW: What is the concept or theme of the bar?

JAMES TAMANG: This bar is a tribute to the writer and novelist Ernest Hemingway. Indeed, the name of the bar is inspired by his novel ‘The Old Man and the Sea’.

The venue itself has a Cuban flavour to it, with an Asian touch. The art and interior are arranged in such a way that patrons feel they are in a sitting room of an old Cuban house. The drinks are mainly experimental twists on classics. We have sourced some cool gadgets that are arriving sometime soon.

DW: Where is the bar opening and why did they pick this location?

JAMES TAMANG: The bar is situated at 37 Aberdeen Street, Soho, Central. We had an idea of what sort of location and space we wanted, and we developed a concept for the bar sometime around June 2016. We wanted a secret space, yet one that was easy to locate. Roman spotted the location and myself, with Agung, swiftly went to see the venue. It was a saloon at that time. We realised this was exactly the kind of space and location we wanted, so we took it promptly.

DW: When is the venue officially opening?

JAMES TAMANG: The venue is opening soon. We are just waiting for few final touch ups!

DW: Why did you all decide to open a bar together? Have there been any disagreements and if so, how did you work through them?

JAMES TAMANG: First of all, there’s a financial reason. We all invested time and money in this project. At the beginning, Agung pretty much had an idea of what he wanted. Being a passionate cocktail bartender, he was looking for a person who would be a great business partner and take charge of the venue. Roman, as ‘King of the Smile’ and a long time ago colleague of Agung’s from MO bar, was the obvious choice.

I came onto the scene slightly later and helped modify a few things for the betterment of bar. I would say I’m sort of in between these two fine gentlemen. I do bar shifts as well as manage the bar sometimes.

We all believe a healthy argument is sometimes necessary for business. However, we have our own job responsibilities, and we don’t interfere in each other’s area of work.

DW: So how did this all come to life? How long has it taken you to get to this point, from the start of talking about opening a bar together to now?

JAMES TAMANG: So far we are happy with the outcome. We believe we’re learning something new every day. On some level, it is exhausting and scary to leave a stable job in a hotel and open your own bar but hey, you live only once so why not do what you love. I guess opening our own bar was a way of seeking happiness. It took exactly a year to get to this stage, and we believe we have a lot of learning still to go.