I remember vaguely of my first time there. I brought my family for late-night after dinner drinks at the bar and met Vipop Jinaphan (Tor). The premise was a bit calm. The drinks were superb and outstandingly better than what we had at other bars. However, at one point, I stopped going there because bartenders have moved to elsewhere and I felt the quality has fallen. I also must admit I used to be that person who was eager to visit the newest place in town. I’d be loyal to places only if they keep their standard or the person is there.
A few years back, I started to delve into the cocktail scene again and finally merge in a circle. On one random night after attending a guest shift at Teens of Thailand. I spontaneously decided to go to another guest shift at Backstage Cocktail Bar. That was the first time I met him. I was introduced to him and as much as he was intrigued by my curiosity and interests in cocktails and bars. Plus, I was impressed by his drinks and he himself behind the bar.
He asked if I ever been to the place. I told him frankly about my experience from the beginning, and that slipped moments which made me gone somewhere else. He urged me to give it another try. Since then, I became more acquaintance with him after many encounters at bars.
He is kind with a reserved charismatic, his gentle and charmingly polite manners are strikingly memorable. His game in dressing and his suits, pants and sock games are classy. He’s also delightful to drink with. He doesn’t talk much, but his words are thoughtfully selected, and he is a man of his word. Beloved by people.
To some, it’s now just another old bar while there are other newer places to be. However, it meant a lot to some. Especially the person who often refers to himself as an old man but he’s not just another old man at the bar. He’s the godfather of the cocktail scene in Bangkok.
With the guest shift with Niks and the all-star night. I knew something was up. It was almost resemblance a trip down the memory lane before an end or a departure to a new phase.
During those months, I continue to drop by once in a while, and he’s mostly there every time. Where things will be discussed, and I will learn more about his stories. One night near the end of April. I decided to talk to him about how he became who he is that we all love and how this place came to its existence. Of course, over cocktails and spirits. I was sipping on a Sazerac, and he was drinking Rum.
Childhood and Family
He chuckles a bit as not entirely sure where to start. So I suggested commencing with his childhood.
His restaurateur uncle had a significant impact on him. Because he opened an oyster bar in the 1980s with a very English vibe that also serves cocktails, followed by an Italian restaurant. He was a great and flamboyant uncle people loved. Strict but also undeniably fun. He learned and inherited many things from him.
The old man is also known as the gentleman which he replies to my query “It was probably from my family and especially my father. He was very gentle and raised all of us to all loved each other so much we have a powerful bond and have such high respect and love for him. My father is also let us have such freedom and be independent. He gives us love, knowledge, and opportunities. My mother was a bit more strict, but if my father has lectured someone, they are probably very unfortunate. Until now, I’ve only been lectured twice. Well, but I can’t deny my years of study in England and accent adds up to the English gentleman image.”
Education and How He Got Behind the Bar
For over three generations, his family has a tradition of sending their sons at the age of 11 or 12 to an English boarding school name ‘Cheltenham College.’ All had lived in the same house but different period. “it was a traditional male boarding school filled with lots of fun and mischievous at times. Each man of our family pursues a completely different path.” One of his uncles studied architect but came back to join the police force. While his father came back to be a banker and later a property developer.
After school, he went forward for a foundation year in art in Manchester. Where he has been exposed to the scene of nightclubs and music. He later attended Wimbledon College of Art where all things art and cocktails were flourishing. He remembered frequently visit a bar by Damien Hirst, and the sensation exhibition was what people were fascinated with, and everything was new and exciting to him.
Inchbald School of Design was where he studied Interior Design Course intensively six days a week of lecture and loads of homework which made him graduate faster than usual course. He then merges his interior studies with interests in nightclub, restaurant, and bar.
Christopher Chanond was established with his best friend, Christopher Prain. Started with works on residential space but he wanted to step forward into the area of bar and restaurant. He knew he needed to learn about the system, operations, and ergonomics and had to get into the bar industry. He went through all the tasks from stocking, lifting ice, washing glasses to mixing drinks and praised Nick Strangeway as his first teacher and whom he worked alongside. Nick is now famously known around the world. He gave a thought on what is missing and saw an opportunity in ‘cocktail catering’ which he started almost intact with the time the cocktail scene in London was growing with Australia and New York all along.
He talks about how successful it was. All the fun in personalized designing of each event. From weddings, luxury goods events to celebrity private house parties. He addressed about modular design bar to make it portable. Its length can be from one to seven meter in various shapes, all with sections of for stocks, ice, glasses, etc.. It was a mix of chrome and carved Inlay wood. He chuckles and says it was more or less portable at that time when folded into a 1-meter large briefcase weighs around fifteen to twenty kilogram. He was quite proud of this piece, and it has been featured in media as well.
After enjoying all the events, He tilts back to focus more on the interior design after gained connections and clients. Especially after Lucia van der Post of The Times London praised Christopher Chanond as some of London’s finest interior designers. (Also featured in her book
Things I Wish My Mother Had Told Me, A guide to Living with Impeccable Grace and Style) He was very grateful for the love and awareness Lucia has brought to Christopher Chanond.
He describes some of the other great moments such as the Chelsea Design Week that feature very first lamp collections, pieces with a printed picture on the mirror and the wooden table eighteenth century map. Last recounts were about the showroom in Pimlico designed to fits a journey within London along the Thames River into two small flat. He had to come back to Thailand when he about to turn thirty. “I felt a bit sad for my father though, sending me to study abroad to come back as a designer slash bartender. However, after all these years until now, I’m proud of the path I have paved and how I have to widen for younger generations.” He laughed with a smile.
Back to Thailand, Flow, and Diageo
Coming back to Thailand was so slow almost like starting from zero in any fields. He began working on interiors for family members and landed on one of my favorite work on an old condominium in Ari of BBC reporter who was posted in Thailand during the political crisis years. I attended numerous events as well, and we didn’t have social media, so press and everything were very slow (find a synonym). As a guest, I spotted that serving soft drinks and table wine doesn’t suit the brands and products.
One night while he was hanging at a bar in Convent around 2005. He remembered first met Benny Sorum who was a bartender that had to come and see who ordered an Old Fashioned. Then they ended up discussing the cocktail scene and status in Thailand and what are the possibilities after Benny had to find out who ordered a Negroni. Back then, it’s very rare to find people who know and drink classics. He, with Benny and Danny Sorum, along with his brother in law who was head of sales at Diageo decided to open Flow Cocktail in 2006 as a bar and beverage consultancy group. At that time it was more about events, and they were the ones who set a whole new standard for Bangkok. People were excited having drinks, food, sound and space that fits into the style and theme of the event. They have taken care of fashion brands to luxury cars.
He then found the first new person to join the group. At a Chivas event, he spotted Niks Anuman Radjadhon who stands out from his hard work, great personality and attention while working. “He’s a terrific kid; I still remember seeing him studying before the shift begins while he was doing his bachelor degree in Political Science.” Later he recruits some of Niks friend’s, and the team started to grow bigger and bigger.
“It later reached the point where we organized some significant events. I can recall all of us cutting limes to the point our hands were mushy and worked on six significant events within three days for a big award. Or the first few installments of Black Planet with more than four thousand guests.”
It also goes beyond Thailand such to a neighboring country as when he was selected to participate in preparation for the opening of a luxury hotel in Singapore. Working on numerous outlets while collaborating and competing with a people from New York, Paris London, etc. He had trained countless of people that some grew to be some of the well-known bartenders in South East Asia. He later became the first Brand ambassador of Diageo Reserve in Thailand. Which he was sent to train abroad and was able to convey and educate people in Thailand even better though outlets, bars, hotels and many more.
Hyde & Seek
After a few years of expertise himself along with his fellows. They decided to open up an establishment. He had been living in the hood of Chidlom, and there wasn’t a place that fits his need. Pubs are easy to find for cheap western food and beer. Hotels are nice for cocktails but with a price tag. He wanted something of both but better and came across a showroom adjunct to a parking lot and felt this is the spot. Space is connected to Athenee which took a while to transfer and made it work for food and beverage.
They went through dozens and hundreds of names and plans which he also hopping here and there while consulting in other countries.
The name Hyde & Seek comes from the space that has both indoor and outdoor with two different personalities of day and nocturnal like Jekyll and Mr.Hyde. Classy and old-fashioned from the inside and more modern on the outside. They didn’t even do any events or promote their opening. He recalled lots of training and recruited Vipop Jinaphan (Tor) which graduated from Anthropology but wanted to be a bartender. Vipop came because he had heard about Flow Cocktail before.
On the first day, the place wasn’t even fully furnished nor that the kitchen was ready. Spontaneously started as a hangout for his wife and fiends which spawned hundreds of people within hours. “We knew we couldn’t close now. I was delighted and surprised we got such acceptance and attention not only in Bangkok but also from other countries. We continuously give our best in there.” They were offered rooftop space on Sathorn but wanted to be on the ground an for individuality. “I still couldn’t believe how big of a collection we had back then of more than 300 bottles. Possibly the largest collection in Bangkok back then.”Now it has outgrown our bar with an abundance of choices.”
Ten new cocktails were created every month and kept one of the best sellers as part of ‘Ten Plus One’ for a year. They wanted to educate customers. Even if they didn’t list all of the drinks there, but they were able to make anything from caipirinha, Martini, Long Island Iced Tea to bespoke cocktails. In the end, the team compiled 50 from their creations and another 50 of classics with description and storyline of every drink. “We printed one thousand of them, but now we have none. Well, things are stolen and disappears from the bar.” Another he stressed on is how they learn from customers but at the same time shape the behavior of the to respect reservations, bookings, waiting and value in quality than quantity as it’s not something that merges with the culture. I agree that the place played a significant role.
Over the Years and Towards the End
“It was a great journey. We had a good on our first year, better on the second and even greater on the third. We had a hard fourth because of the political crisis, but our fifth was surprisingly good. On our sixth, it’s not new anymore, and at that time Bangkok has more bars, more training. Better acceptance and wider recognition of bar business and bartender workforce.” The stars left to other establishments and continue to raise the bar even higher. “I’m happy they get better opportunities and career path that continues to grow. I’m very proud I have the chance to spend time and be a part of their lives and continue to have a great relationship with them.”
“All thing changes, there were ups and downs. The people and market also changed, and here people loved the new and trendy things. I’m glad drinkers have developed and improved their palate.”
“I still believe in standard and service and adaptation. Note that we also have to consider about efficiency for everyone, waste as well. We really picked up things when we launched 4×4 menu. We had new food drinks that led to both new and old customers.”
When we opened it back then, we wanted a place people can do everything from day dining to happy hour, aperitif and forward to after hour party. He said none of this would have happened if he wasn’t fortunate enough to have great business partners.
He also gives priority to mention about Smith. At first, they had a project of a Western seafood-centric restaurant on Sukhumvit 51, but fell in love with a forty years old warehouse on Sukhumvit 49 and changed the whole thing. The concept was a slaughterhouse and also a tribute to Smithfield market in London. And all things profession of Smith, food smith, and cocktail smith. The cocktail menu of person’s name ends with Smith and can be paired with all the food.
“I sometimes thought we came too early. Fancy brunch, tomahawk, barbeque pit, artisan beef cuts, crafty knife and kitchen tools. Oh, also that we had dozens of craft and draft beer on taps. And now everything is back and in full swing. Those years were like fever dreams.”
New Chapter and New Project
I know it was reaching its end of this conversation. He had drowned several glasses of rum as I did with Sazerac and a couple of other drinks. He then opted for Balvenie and asked me what do I want. I was in the mood for something sweet and smoky. A sort of harsh sipper/nite cap as I know it’s coming towards the end of the story and will shift into a post-casual conversation. I still remember it very distinctly.
Me: “Maraschino then.”
The Old Man: “What? With?”
Me: “On the rock please.”
The Old Man: “Really? You are a strange man.”
Me: “I know, I get quite the same reaction the other night when I asked for Suze neat.” I laughed a bit, and he abruptly said.
*** **** ** ******** *** **** * **** **** ** **** **** **** ** ***** ** **** ******** *** *** ****. **** ***** ***** *** ****** ** ******. ** *** ********* *** ** ****** *** ****. ** **** ***** ********. * *** ******.
As he sips the golden liquid. “I was really proud of how this place has stood and contributed to Bangkok and Asia. How the whole experience was changed and give me, People would have had already forgotten about me, but this allows me to be in the society.”
His next step is to become a farmer plus four months a year of glamping. “It was actually a plan for a couple of years, I’d say it’s the new mid-life crisis. People just shed their suit and tie and start plowing the land.”
“It’s following the sustainable life like King Rama IX. A serene life. I see it will enrich minds and bodies. Who knows I would be more financially fluid than those working in white collars. Fewer people and less stress.”
I asked what would happen to the scene and community once he’s gone. “I’m really delighted that things are getting better every year, the forefront bartenders continues to be better, and there were new ones. I’m glad the community in Bangkok is tight-knit and also expand to other cities. I also love that Asia countries are very close to each other. I’ve played my part, and I will let others flourish and contribute. I’m now just a visitor who drinks and sometimes get drunk. I’m also too old to be behind the bar, everything was stiff, and my body wouldn’t allow me to as I usually did.”
One last question of that night that I was curious was what does he thinks of people saying he’s a great storyteller. He smiled and admitted he once fooled a lot of people at the time when he was speaking about a classic cocktail on training and was asked about the origin of Margarita. He went “It was a Mexican fisherman out for fishing who was thirty and found a bottle of triple sec that floated to his boat from a sunken French ship. He mixes with lime juice and Tequila and a dolphin coincidentally splash drops of salt water on top. And one of them asked if that’s true. I told them hell no. How could it be” he laughed happily reliving those small moments.
I finished my drink and thank him for his time. It was a great night. He looked cherished, but I can feel some profound poignant. I tried to ask him to make drinks for me but he politely turns down. We were joined by another fellow and did a cocktail and spirit tastings. He later was called and had to leave, I wished him a good night and a safe trip back home. The rest of us moved to a dive bar nearby for an hour or so before called it a night.
I saw him a couple of times before I came here. I would like to visit him at his farm or somewhere else. Hopefully a chance to sit across him at the bar once again. Whatever it is, there might be a long conversation about the past that I’d very much waiting to hear more about this gentleman. Or some new stories he has experienced while I was away.
He will always be the godfather of cocktails in Bangkok we all love.