Table Talk with Jerrold Khoo, Jigger & Pony Group

Where and how did you get started in hospitality?

I stumbled onto bartending in 2009 when I was 19 and a 2nd-year design school student. I needed money to feed myself and my passion for interior design and music. I started working part-time at Loof, a rooftop bar near the Raffles Hotel, as a server. There, I learned the foundations of F&B such as setting tables, techniques for holding up to four glasses in one hand and opening corked bottles properly. It was so enriching because I felt like I was learning F&B trade secrets with the skills that I could also use at home.

Soon, I started working behind the bar as a barback. I learned how to wash glasses at a 200-seater venue quickly without getting my shirt wet through the night while serving too many Jäger-trains and mojitos. At Loof, I gained an understanding of the flavour profiles of the spirits we use, acquired multi-tasking skills and learned to mediate on-ground conflicts at work.

Four years down the road, I arrived at a crossroads. I was working a trial week at Jigger & Pony when I got offered a job at a design firm that I had interviewed for. As we all know now, I chose Jigger & Pony. It struck a chord with me: I was drawn to Jigger & Pony, from the name of the bar and its interiors including how the bar area was set up, to its philosophy of convivial hospitality.

I started as a bar apprentice and wanted to master Japanese bartending – a beautiful art that combines elegance, efficiency, and science. It makes the physical nature of bartending look so Zen, well-studied and therapeutic… And it made me realise that we can never truly master it. I remember I once made a Sidecar that tasted lacklustre. I realised that the way I shake a drink had evolved – I had probably shaken a little too much and diluted the drink. And I discovered how important control is in the craft of bartending.

This is “ichigo-ichie”, a Japanese phrase meaning every moment in the present is unique and must be cherished to deliver the best. This concept is what drives me.

How would you describe your job?

I always aim to have our customers leave the bar happier than before they entered. I find joy in multi-tasking – making cocktails, taking care of our guests and serving up our signature style of convivial hospitality in which our bar is a space to find comfort, forge friendships and share happiness.

I love that I can make a small difference to someone’s day by interacting with them and fixing them a cocktail.

Multi-tasking tests my bandwidth and forces me to stretch my capabilities.

As Jigger & Pony’s Bar Manager, I see myself as both the happy pill and fire extinguisher for our guests and team. I’m like a smartphone, with multiple apps open and running in the background.

For those that haven’t visited, tell us a bit more about the brands you manage in your own words?

Jigger & Pony is a modern cocktail bar, named after the double-coned measuring device used by bartenders to accurately pour out spirits. Jigger & Pony was launched in 2012, and it is the flagship brand of the Jigger & Pony Group.

When Jigger & Pony launched, modern cocktail culture as we know it today was still in its early stages. From the beginning, Jigger & Pony’s magic is not just in the cocktails that we serve, but also in our signature convivial hospitality that keeps our guests coming back. I joined Jigger & Pony in 2013 and it’s an incredible privilege to work in a pioneering Singapore cocktail bar.

Despite the pandemic, 2020 has been a good year for Jigger & Pony. We were #1 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars in May, at the height of the Circuit Breaker, and we were closed. We finally reopened in mid-September, the last outlet in the Jigger & Pony Group to do so. In November 2020, we were #9 on World’s 50 Best Bars.

What’s the best thing about working behind the bar?

When I was 18, my friends and I were in a rock band called Gutter Bonez, inspired by Guns N’ Roses, Skid Row, and Mötley Crüe. I was the drummer and lyricist. We dressed the part but sounded terrible. However, those 3 years were the best time of my life that I would repeat anytime – we were releasing our creative energy as a group through music.

The energy and excitement I felt when I was in the band is similar to what I feel now behind the bar now as a bartender – it is a performance and an artistic expression from me to my guests. Now, the bar is my stage.

How has 2020 changed your perception of the hospitality industry?

I realised, and saw firsthand, how a robust industry could become fragile, almost crippled, overnight. I was also struck by how hospitality professionals have pivoted where necessary, and as quickly as possible, to save their businesses and their staff. And I respect how the cocktail bar community found new ways to share their craft despite the rocky landscape.

At Jigger & Pony, we thought of new ways to deliver happiness in a pandemic, quite literally with our cocktails in pouches through our deliveries platform. This was the spark for PONY, our premium bottled cocktail brand handcrafted with pride by bartenders at Jigger & Pony, that launched in November (2020).

What needs to happen to ensure that the industry is better supported moving forward?

In time to come, I want to set up a modern hospitality and bartending school where aspiring bar professionals can learn the trade properly and earn certification. At the same time, non-bartenders can take up this course as a side interest to create drinks for themselves or their loved ones at home. Ultimately, I hope this can help to strengthen the overall professionalism and reputation of the work we do.

Where is your favourite place in the world to drink?

I like small and cosy bars such as Q&A and Bar 335 in Bangkok, Happiness Forgets in London, and Mortar Speakeasy in Seoul.

In Singapore, I actually miss a place called Chips, it’s a rock ‘n’ roll pub at Cuscaden Road, off Orchard Road near the Hard Rock Cafe. It’s just a 20-seater bar to get a fix of beer, chicken wings and rock music.

Image credit: Jigger & Pony Group 

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