Hospitality Industry

Setting the Bar: Navigating the Second Golden Age of Drinking

Episode 1- Series - 1

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Globally, the alcoholic drinks market is expected to reach USD$1.37 trillion in revenue in 2020. With world-class bars becoming increasingly popular and the competition only getting stiffer, the drinking scene has been at an all-time high. In this ‘second Golden Age’, Paul Gabie, CEO and Co-Founder of Proof & Company, dished up the stories in a webinar with EHL on how the company has fashioned some of Asia’s top bars, presenting their concepts which are an intoxicating mix of fun, imaginative, and truly experiential.

How some of Asia’s best bars were conceptualized?

The bar scene as we know it today is relatively young – over half of the bars on the list of Asia’s Best Bars have barely been around for 5 years. Yet, concocting a world-class bar concept takes more than just incredible bartenders and a ton of passion and commitment. The renowned ATLAS bar in Singapore has become a quintessential name in the sector, famous for its Art Deco grandeur and finest selections of gin – and the seamless, breathtaking experience it offers makes the concept appear almost effortless. But as Paul explains, ATLAS is the result of a distinctive blend of having a clear vision from its owners, in a dramatic, one-of-a-kind space – along with 2000 to 4000 man-hours of patience and dedication, just from the concept development perspective.

This means that each opportunity is unique, and neither is any one project as capital or time intensive as another. The Pontiac, one of Hong Kong’s most famous craft cocktail dive bars, has been listed on Asia’s 50 Best Bars since its inception in 2016. Owned by EHL alumnus Harsh Roopchand and headed by bartender Beckaly Franks, Pontiac has been a force of genuine character in the industry and a voice of inclusiveness, being at the center of the LGBTQIA+ community and having a female-led team for years. Yet, it took a mere 60 days, a relatively small amount of capital, and a lot of personality to develop, renovate, and re-conceptualize this now-iconic bar.”

Staying relevant in the current times

With the ever-changing nature of consumer preferences, savvy businesses have long learned not to rest on their laurels when it comes to success. 28 Hongkong Street is known as one of the first American craft cocktail bars in Singapore, having opened back in 2011. While the fundamental principles of commitment to hospitality, quality ingredients, and craftsmanship – which have been the hallmarks of the second Golden Age – are how 28 has remained relevant as a concept through the years, its team and customers have gone through generations of chapters that have continually renewed and refreshed the bar to where it has stood at each stage of its lifecycle. Therefore, while such stakeholder evolution is a natural part of a growing business, the key is in being able to anticipate and manage this change, whilst remaining true to the fundamentals.

Optimism for bars in a post-COVID world

Amid continued social distancing measures and no clear end to the pandemic, many bars have had to innovate for survival; turning to cocktail deliveries, DIY cocktail kits, and even creating virtual bars. The short-term prospects of hospitality and the bar scene may thus seem to be on the rocks, especially as many of us in the industry continue to wonder: ‘will we ever recover?’.

However, promising results signaling strong pent-up demand in countries such as China and New Zealand, which have eased measures, have been showing signs of positivity. Proof & Company reported revenues in China equal to their H2 2019 numbers in June, while their New Zealand operations recorded their best month in history in June. Therefore, while the question of when may remain uncertain, the straight answer is that given humans’ innate desire to connect, socialize, and experience, we most certainly will recover from this crisis – garnished with a small wedge of lemon and a dash of optimism for the future.

Running a co-living business is similar to a hotel business in some ways, such as providing great service. But there are key differences on the business end. Staff get to know people better with co-living due to longer stays and return visits. Co-living businesses allow for more flexibility and creativity, and changes or ideas can be implemented faster and easier. Staff can be true to themselves and show their personalities more, which creates more genuine relationships. Another example of a distinction is that Hmlet digitizes the handling of issues, so guests put in a ticket on an app rather than calling the front desk as they would in a hotel.

What Is the Future of Co-Living?

Co-living will continue to change and evolve. Cultural shifts may make it more common and popular, and Hmlet sees the hospitality industry going in this direction.

Hmlet’s plans for moving forward include focusing on matching the right location with the right building and the right product to the right customer. They want to:

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