We recently sat down with bartending royalty, Chris Lowder, the former Head Bartender at the Four Seasons in Seoul, South Korea. As Head Bartender, Chris was responsible for cocktail creation and beverage menu curation for the hotel’s six bars and restaurants. In its opening year (2016), his flagship bar Charles H. was named by Drinks International as the 8th Best Hotel Bar in the World, Best Bar in Korea, and took 52nd spot on 100 Best Bars in the World. In the same year, Chris was also nominated by Tales of the Cocktail as International Bartender of the Year, so, yeah, he’s kind of a big deal. Grab yourself a Singapore Sling while we rap with Chris….
NightOwl: Chris, tell us a little about what it was like to be the head bartender and cocktail creator at the Four Seasons Hotel, Seoul?
Chris: It was a real blast. In total, the hotel has 12 unique bar programs – 2 cocktail bars, a lobby bar, 4 restaurants, room service, banquets, a bar at the spa, a seasonal rooftop bar, and the executive lounge. Conceptualizing all of those cocktail services, and then managing and executing on that scale was thrilling to say the least. The team there was incredible.
The flagship bar is called Charles H. It’s a grand cocktail bar full of cocktails, jazz, and champagne that you really have to see to believe. The bar was my ode to history’s greatest expat bon vivant Charles H. Baker. Charles was a drinks writer who circled the world on steamships in the early 1900’s and wrote about all of the amazing cocktails that people in different countries were drinking during that time. Unfortunately, a lot of these rich drinking traditions have been lost since Charles enjoyed them in the 1920’s. Charles H. is the bar where those cocktails and flavors are revived for the first time in almost 100 years. It’s such an amazing thing to be able to share with the community here.
NightOwl: Just this year, your bar was named by Tales of the Cocktail for Best New International Cocktail Bar, World’s Best Bar Menu and you were named International Bartender of the Year? What’s that like?
Chris: Absolutely incredible. For me, it’s meaningful to see how many people in the global bar community are watching developments in Asia Pacific. Five years ago, it was virtually unheard of for bars in China or Singapore or Korea to be nominated for this kind of an award. So much has changed very quickly, and it’s a real honor to be contributing to that transition.
NightOwl: Tell us what a typical day looked like for you?
Chris: I’d start my day with black coffee and about an hour of exercise. I found that taking that time in the mornings to get centered really helped me to keep up with the 12 bar programs and all of their moving pieces. Then, I’d head into the hotel and try to keep my day to four-hour blocks: four hours of meetings with other hotel managers, head bartenders, brand reps, etc. Four hours of service. Four hours of administrative work and creative planning. Then I’d head home, have some tea, rinse, and repeat.
NightOwl: You also were the 2015 New York Rising Star Bartender when you ran the bar at NoMad Hotel in NYC. What about that experience prepared you for Asia?
Chris: Managing the NoMad was an incredible challenge and is probably the one thing in my career that prepared me the most for Seoul. The NoMad Hotel is where I learned to use logistics, communication, and leadership to run multiple high-volume cocktail bars at a Michelin-starred level. It’s easy to create one cocktail by yourself, but it’s much more difficult to get a team of 40 people to execute the same drinks consistently at different times and in different spaces. But in the words of Chef Daniel Humm, “if you can make one, you can make a thousand.” I try to maintain that same positive solution-oriented attitude when I do staff trainings. It’s such an amazing feeling to teach someone this craft.
NightOwl: What’s the most interesting thing that’s ever happened to you at any of your bars?
Chris: I got to serve the whole cast of the TV show Taxi for their unofficial reunion! One by one they walked into the bar: Tony Danza, Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, and on and on. I couldn’t believe it. Sure, I’ve had nights hosting insane parties, crazy bands, I’ve stopped fights, bounced people, all that. But the cast of Taxi!? Come on!!
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