Behind the Bar Stick People

Asia's Hottest Bar Scene Is Just Getting Started. And You Can Thank This Guy.

Great bartenders don’t materialize from thin air. They are the sum of accumulated actions. Crazy hours, meticulous research, rigorous experimentation—these are but a few of the unseen sacrifices that go into each and every perfectly executed cocktail that appears before you. If anyone ever suggests the job is simply fun and games, point them in the direction of Gibran Baydoun. The native New Yorker personifies what it takes to succeed in this business. From his adopted home of Singapore, he looks back at a long and rewarding journey inf the drinks trade.

“I started as a restaurant manager three days after graduating from University of Michigan,” says Baydoun, an experienced barman and beverage consultant. “I moved back to New York and took a gig with Hillstone Restaurant Group. I had casually waited tables before, but this is where I really cultivated my talent in hospitality.”

On-the-job training is often the norm in the bar world. And Baydoun benefited from being a fast learner, rising in the ranks to management at breakneck speed. Doing things right was a function of understanding the guiding philosophy behind the beverage program; each establishment has its own. Baydoun says that if you strive to truly understand it and commit yourself fully to the process, people in charge will quickly take note.

What’s His Face, I Hear Banjos and Diamonds & Pearls cocktails, from left, at Adrift, where Baydoun first made his mark in Singapore.

“The rule was simple there,” he says of his time with Hillstone. “We made drinks that go great with the food. I loved not only their generous, classic cocktails, like a stunning Martini, but also that they’d swap out the glass halfway through with a fresh chilled one so that the last drop is as good as the first.”

It seems easy enough, but all too often a bar program lacks a singular, cohesive message or it fails to find staff who are willing and able to truly connect with it. Baydoun’s strength is in finding that ethos and focusing it in a way that compels the customer to believe.

Destined for a role in management, he took on a stint with Ralph Lauren before moving to Momofuku as the director of restaurant operations. “I was able to do a lot of things there, from helping open the first restaurant to watching the masters at Momofuku Ko and Booker and Dax [both in New York City] work true magic,” he says. “I probably learned the most from John deBary at Momofuku and Jordan Salcito, wine and service extraordinaire, when it comes to beverages. They were definitely career-defining influences and just all around badass people.”

Adrift bar.

As he started his career, Baydoun made something of a speciality out of seizing opportunity. When a prominent chef came calling with the chance to operate a beverage program on the other side of the earth, he barely hesitated.

“I came out to work with chef David Myers at his restaurant in Singapore, Adrift by David Myers,” says Baydoun of his most recent move. “I had never even used a passport but was ready for that growth. Adrift was the best-kept secret at the iconic Marina Bay Sands resort, and as a team, we were able to develop the bar into one of those electric spots filled with people you know or feel like you’ve always known.”

In Singapore, Baydoun recognized others who were dedicated to their craft and determined to inspire one another to take drinks further. “There is no shortage of talent in Singapore,” he says. “People are doing ridiculously great things and pushing boundaries on a daily basis. There are so many good bars that as a whole raise us all up together. I love the camaraderie here. There is a community of bartenders, chefs and GMs that support each other and make the whole damn thing fun and exciting.”

Somewhere I Belong, 3 Minutes to Midnight and Kalimotxo cocktails, from left, at Adrift.

These days, Baydoun is focusing his time and energy on a new endeavor, 1880, a private members club in Singapore that just opened. According to the club’s website, “1880 is borne out of an idea that is as simple as it is grand: that conversations can and will make the world a better place.”

“I can tell you good things are happening here that make me jump out of bed in the morning,” says Baydoun. “It combines everything I love in the world: politics, conversations and hospitality.”

1880 fits perfectly in a city-state that’s increasingly welcome to outside ideas and influences. “My main mission has been to help nurture a menu that’s as approachable as it is thoughtful,” says Baydoun. “We like having a bit of the unexpected in our bar program while also balancing what our members are really looking for out of a spot that many will visit three to seven nights a week. We want to be unique and familiar all at the same time, without an ounce of pretentiousness.”

Adrift main dining room.

It’s a tough line to walk without falling. But Baydoun has the agility to pull it off. How could anyone presume to doubt him after what he’s achieved in less than a decade?

In addition to overseeing multiple beverage programs in Singapore, he’s courting work well beyond the confines of his home city, all with the lessons he started learning on day one on the job. “The simple power of a really solid restaurant bar has guided [me], and I see it in my work now as I work with bars and restaurants all over the world through my own restaurant consulting and development company.”

Not bad for someone who came into this industry looking for a temporary gig after graduation. “I never thought I would be doing this forever, but I have finally realized that a good cocktail and great people can actually change the world,” he says. With enough time and enough effort, of course. Success in the drinks business is no different than any other: Nothing is quick. And nothing is easy. Just ask Gibran Baydoun.