Influencer: Cocktail Guru John Nugent

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We talk with cocktail guru John Nugent about his new Hong Kong speakeasy, The Diplomat, vintage cocktails, changing palates and the last drink of his life.

Given the chance to create your ‘dream bar’ what concepts first came to mind?

Two things always jump out at me. The bar has to be comfortable for the guest and functional for the staff. After that, the concepts can go in any direction depending on your interests. As far as a “dream” concept goes, I think one day I would like to open a high volume 80s/90s retro bar. Think Miami Vice meets Cheers. 

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From a bartender’s perspective, what are the benefits to a small-scale concept like The Diplomat?

For me, it’s a matter of control. I can see all my guests, and I can see all my staff on the floor. I can control lots of different scenarios. I can see almost all the drinks that go out, which helps with quality control. Also, my staff can see how I handle certain situations and guests, which they can then take in their stride and flourish to a point where I don’t need to watch them like a hawk. 

In terms of ambience, what are you going for with the new venue?

I want my bar to feel like a cosy neighbourhood bar, but with a touch of class and elegance. Somewhere you can come down from work and have a beer and a burger, or come in for a delicious martini on a date. We are trying to create the “third place“; a place that isn’t home or work but a place where you constantly find yourself because you feel welcomed and comfortable. 

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What should we know about the new venue before we visit?

Just come ready to have more than one cocktail because we are that proud of them, and PLEASE try some of our food. Our burger is the absolute best in the city. 

The Diplomat Hong Kong

You’re stocking a range of vintage liquors – what’s the fascination here and what are some of the gems we should be ordering? What should we know about vintage liquors other than that they’re old?

We are just starting this process of picking up vintage spirits. It’s an opportunity for our guest to know what Frank Sinatra was drinking in the 60s and 70s. Different spirits have different distillers throughout their history, so you literally can taste the difference between now and yesteryear of, say, a Johnny Walker Black Label. As far as gems go, any spirit is fascinating; whiskies are blended differently from time to time, gins may have higher or lower proof, bitters such as Campari could have a different composition – the list goes on. 

The menu takes its inspiration from state leaders and historical figures – are there any infamous stories you can reveal?

Haha come in for a drink – and I’ll tell you all the stories. 

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If we only have time for one drink it should definitely be…

Try one of our mini cocktails, because then you will have time for two 😉

You’ve been in Hong Kong a few years now – how has the local scene evolved in that time and do you still pine for your native Seattle?

I love Seattle and I miss it, but Hong Kong is home. It’s one of the best cities in the world.

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The missiles have been launched and you have 4 minutes left to live – what are you pouring?

The best American Whiskey I can find and the coldest beer in the fridge.

What’s one sin you won’t abide by at The Diplomat?

All sinners are welcome. Just don’t be a jerk to staff and other guests and we will get along just fine.

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About Author

Nick Walton is a Hong Kong-based photojournalist and Group Managing Editor for Artemis Communications, producers of Alpha Men Asia, Ultimate Encounters, The Art of Business Travel, IKHLAS, Heavens Voyage, and many other titles.

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