Industry Icon Award 2020: Agung Prabowo of The Old Man Hong Kong & The Old Man Singapore
When it comes to the bartending industry, there are a few names that need no introduction, and Agung Prabowo is one of them. The brainchild of the Hemingway inspired bar, The Old Man originally opened in Hong Kong and has now expanded with the opening of The Old Man Singapore. Agung has been recently crowned (like his namesake) the Industry Icon Award at the Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020. We speak to him to find out more about his philosophy as well as the creation of some of The Old Man’s iconic concoctions.
Congratulations on winning the first ever Asia’s 50 Best Bars Industry Icon Award. Can you tell us what this means to you?
I was shocked and still can’t believe until now, there’s so many Industry Icon across Asia such as, Collin & Din from Singapore, Ueno San from Japan, Antonio Lai from Hong Kong and many more. I am so lucky, very honoured & humbled to receive this award.
Can you tell us a bit about The Old Man and it’s philosophy?
Down a small set of stairs, The Old Man is hidden away in an unremarkable-looking lane just off Aberdeen Street, its location marked only by a square sign and an overhead lamp. Once you step through the door, however, it’s anything but unremarkable. Intimately sized at 1,000 square feet, The interior of The Old Man is warm and inviting, resembling a stylish living room rather than a cocktail bar. The first thing you’ll notice is the I-shaped bar, behind which hangs the visual centerpiece of the entire space: a custom-built art installation depicting Hemingway’s likeness. The adjacent walls contain square cutouts that display various bottles of booze as well as books, a visual reminder of the bar’s literary leanings.
Behind the bar is where the drinks are made, naturally, but there are stools placed around the other three sides, allowing guests to sit and observe experimental mixology in action. Here, they’ll also be able to enjoy one of The Old Man’s signature design features: the bar’s built-in cooling strip, which keeps drinks placed on top of it cold. No bottle display behind the bar, but the portrait of Hemingway – made of excess materials leftover from building the venue – watching over one end of the bar.
Our cocktails directions are experimental cocktails using a lot of culinary techniques and laboratory gadgets during the prep to produce good result and complexity of the drinks. The cocktails at The Old Man draw upon a wide variety of influences from the Hemingway itself. The cocktails are named after Hemingway’s books. The books and novels have connections with the cocktails themselves as Hemingway sometimes wrote about the cocktails in his books and even drank some when he was looking for inspiration.
Do you mind sharing a personal cocktail recipe that you like making and why you like making it?
I like classic cocktails and the Cuba Libre cocktail is easy to make and super fresh during summer. 🙂
Cuba Libre Cocktail
- 2 ounce Cuban Rum (must)
- Coca Cola
- Squeeze of fresh lime
Pour into a highball glass.
Can you suggest three cocktails at The Old Man and why they are must tries?
A Moveable Feast #1964 (The Old Man Hong Kong)
Rotovap sea, clear spiced cherry tomato, coconut, basil-tomato seeds and oyster leaf infused in cheesewax.
Back in the days when he wrote this book, Hemingway lived in Paris and he and his fellow writer friends loved to go to Harris New York Bar, Paris and he always drank a Bloody Mary. As I wanted to keep the tradition of Hemingway favourite drink, I recreated the Bloody Mary in different way involving culinary techniques and gadgets.
A MOVEABLE FEAST #1964, the cocktail itself has so many layers of flavour, demonstrated that these five tastes can exist in one cocktails. 20 years working behind the bar, I am surprised with the result and this cocktail as it still blows my mind. I’m so proud of this concoction. We spend a few hours to prep this cocktail, with many gadgets and techniques involved such as using the rotary evaporator (distilling process), centrifuge, sous-vide and cold infusion.
Death In The Afternoon #1932 (The Old Man Singapore)
Absinthe, sparkling wine, coco-pandan yogurt and nutmeg
Inspired from classic Death In The Afternoon cocktail which Hemingway used to drink, but in our version we have combined southeast Asian flavours by adding our homemade coconut & pandan yogurt to bring up the texture and to smooth-up the hardness of absinthe.
The Sun Also Rises #1926 (The Old Man Hong Kong & Singapore)
Copra (young coconut kernel) fat-washed applejack, fresh curry gin, sweet vermouth sous-vide pandan leaves and kaffir lime.
Inspired from the Negroni and Jack Rose cocktail, which were favourites of Hemingway and his friend (Fitzgerald) when he used to write this book back in the days. This cocktail is super popular in both venue Hong Kong and Singapore.
What skills do you look for in a bartender?
I normally don’t look their skill but rather their attitude and the humbleness and most importantly, humility. You can’t serve drinks to guests or excel at hospitality without it. A great bartender will also possess a positive attitude, enjoyment to his jobs and will have enthusiasm to give their best and constantly learn new skills. A great bartender will possess confidence, attitude and personality, but always have respect for customers, fellow staff and their venue.
What advice would you give to young bartenders entering the industry?
The advice for all my fellow bartenders out there, never stop to learn and believe on yourself, stay humble. Every day we all learn something from others in the work place or someplace else. I treat my work (bartending) as my hobby and I treated my hobby as my work. 🙂
How has the Covid-19 affected the old man?
What a challenging time not only for The Old Man but for the industry. It has tremendously dampened our sales and the morale of the team as we are unable to achieve more revenue and at the same time we’re afraid for our own safety as well as our family. Adding to that, we are also afraid of what’s going to happen to our livelihood if we can’t ride out this unforeseen and unpredictable times.
Can you tell us about your bottled cocktail delivery programme?
It was great program and good exercise for me and the team while the bar was closed due to the government’s restrictions. Although the profits are less it was good enough for us to make living, pay rent and staffs. We have our Hemingway’s Series bottled cocktails (a selection of our popular cocktail from the menu), and in addition, we have the Reverse Hanky Panky, which we collaborated with a local Gin distillery.
You are very well known in the bar industry. Do you have any advice for your peers in the industry who might be having a difficult time?
Well, I really don’t have much advice to other fellow bartenders or other establishments as I feel what they feel now, but the most important thing in this challenging time is to always stay positive, never ever let your team morale down and always work together with other bars around you! Stay Safe and healthy!
The Old Man Hong Kong is at No. 2 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020.
The Old Man Singapore is at No. 22 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020.
For our thoughts on the Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020, see Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020.
For all 50 Best related content, see 50 Best.