Taiwanese-born bartender Nick Wu was first introduced to the world of food and beverage at the age of 15 when he entered an F&B training school. After delving into cooking, service, tea, coffee and spirits, he quickly discovered his passion. Today, as the head of Bar Mood in Taipei, Wu is one the most influential bartenders in Asia and perhaps the world.
After school, Wu focused on flair bartending and at the age of 17 won first place in Taiwan’s competition for students of flair. Then in 2006, in the middle of his four-year position for TGI Friday’s in Taiwan, Wu went on to take first place in a global flair competition.
Despite his focus on American-style cocktails and flair, a fateful meeting at the Diageo World Class competition in 2008 opened Wu’s eyes to a whole new world of bartending, specifically Japan’s. “At that time, I was running a small event-planning company and helping Diageo organize the Taiwanese arm of its global competition,” says Wu. “That’s where I met Hidetsugu Ueno, and we have worked together since.” Ueno is Japan’s most renowned bartender and the owner of Bar High Five in Tokyo, renowned as one of the top cocktail bars in the world.
After meeting Ueno, Wu immersed himself in the craft of Japanese cocktails. Wu worked hard, attempting to blend the speed and high-volume bartending found in popular American bars with the craft of Japanese bartending, all the while bringing his Taiwanese heritage to the forefront.
After helping organize the Diageo World Class competition in Taiwan, Wu gave up the role in order to compete in 2014. In his first year, Wu came in second in Taiwan. But the following year, he won the Taiwanese competition and flew to Miami to compete with the 56 other finalists from all around the globe. “I won two of the six challenges, the speed round and apéritif round, becoming the only World Class bartender to do so,” says Wu. He eventually placed third in the final.
Following the competition, Wu used his newfound fame in the cocktail world to open several bars around Asia. The bars Find the Photo Booth and Locker Room in Bangkok were created in collaboration with Ueno and other famed Asian bartenders. In 2018, a new location called The Artist Bar & Bistro saw Wu enter Shanghai.
Because he juggles so many different projects, Wu says it’s important to assemble strong bartending teams in each of his establishments. “I love to hire bartenders with no previous experience,” he says. “All I need to see is passion, and that blank sheet can be built into something amazing.”
Though Wu spreads his own passion across his many ventures, Bar Mood remains his home base. “It’s here that I try to experiment almost weekly,” he says. “I work with star chefs and bartenders from all over the world to host pairing events. It’s one of the most fun parts of the job.” Most recently, he has worked with a local botanist to create simple, flavorful cocktails infused with the flowers of the season.
Wu has begun plans to create a system to train bartenders around Asia. With so many cocktail bars popping up, he fears there may be a drop in quality in preparation and service. After three or four bad experiences, says Wu, drinkers may abandon cocktails altogether and turn to beer or wine.
“This damages the cocktail world as a whole,” says Wu. His goal for this new year is to start a bartending training course in China, to teach aspiring bartenders the art of making and serving a balanced drink. If his past success is any indication, we’d be crazy to doubt him.