The Italian bar manager shares his love for his craft and a newfound love for Asian ingredients

Bar manager Michele Mariotti was born to do what he does for a living. That was at least what we thought after meeting the Italian-native, who now helms Mo Bar at Mandarin Oriental, Singapore, on a packed Thursday afternoon.

It was evident in his ability to make guests feel comfortable, treating them like he had known them forever. In between concocting inventive libations that took us on a gastronomic journey through Southeast Asia, he would walk from table to table, chatting guests up to ensure they were having a good time, and never failing to say goodbye as they leave.

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“There is never a dull day when you work in a bar,” a jovial Mariotti confesses, looking like he came out of a fashion spread with his well-tailored suit, perfectly coiffed hair and charming smile.

He admitted with a chuckle that he originally studied tourism in his native country because he wanted to work in the travel industry. That all changed when he took a summer job in a hotel bar in Lignano Sabbiadoro, and discovered that he preferred the “positive energy” people in the bar had because they wanted to have a good time.

He decided to pursue this profession fulltime, sharpening his skills at London's The Blue Bar at The Berkeley, the now-defunct 7 Tales at Sosharu, and the legendary American Bar at The Savoy, before moving to Singapore to take on this “amazing opportunity”.

In between sips of clever cocktails and bar bites, we chatted about his newfound love for Asian ingredients and his plans for Mo Bar.

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Is there something in the water in Italy that helps produces great bartenders?
Michele Mariotti (MM) Italy is a welcoming nation, we love chatting and, more importantly, sharing a meal or a drink. That’s why I think hospitality is in our blood—it comes from the heart, otherwise, it’s not genuine.

Who were your mentors?
MM I had many throughout my career, but one person that stands out is my first head bartender Riccardo. He comes from a different era and many would consider him a dinosaur now, but his main focus was the guests. He always had the perfect joke and instantly knew what to say to the guests. He was very skilled when it comes to cocktails, too—at the age of 48 he was still tending bar every day—but he saw that as a secondary priority.

Erik Lorincz and Declan Mcgurk from the American Bar at The Savoy were also big influences. They had a clear idea of what the bar should do and how to achieve that.

Greatest takeaway at lauded American Bar at The Savoy?
MM It takes a very small, deliberate and considerate action to make a person remember a moment for the rest of their lives.

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What’s the best thing about being a bartender?
MM It’s the close-knit community. A few years back, I travelled to Korea where I only knew one guy who visited my bar once. I met him (and his friends and they) who took me around to the best restaurants (and treated me) like a friend from high school. It was an incredible experience. Everywhere you go, you can easily connect with a group of bartenders who treat you like a brother.

You’ve worked in Italy, London and Singapore. Tell us about the differences in their drinks scene?
MM I think Italy and London have established markets, and people know what they like and what or when to try something new. Singapore is more dynamic and younger, which means it’s less stuck on specific trends.

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What brought you to Mo Bar?
MM It sounded like an exciting project from the start. I wanted to be involved in a project that has Asia at its core. At Mo Bar, we try to use unique local ingredients and materials, and work with them in a way that allows people from all four corners of the world to relate to them.

What are your plans for the bar?
MM Now that I am here in Asia, the idea is to try to link up with the surrounding communities as much as possible in order to gather as many ideas, ingredients and styles possible, and move them over to an easy and approachable menu concept. I’m looking forward to it!

How would you define your bartending style?
MM Same as a pizza; crunchy where it needs to be.

If there's one drink at Mo Bar not to be missed, what should it be?
MM I love Tea Time. It is a great twist on a whisky sour. It is made from Arrack, a spirit distilled from the sap of coconut trees, citrus, Javanese black tea and Cashew Orgeat. We wanted this drink to pay tribute to the tea culture here, which is so pronounced. The drink is very monumental, served in a marble vessel we sourced from Java.

What makes a perfect cocktail?
MM A perfect cocktail is 99 per cent recipe and one per cent magic, which, sometimes, is hard to find. It’s also about the perfect interaction of two human beings, the bartender/server and the guest.

Is there a drink you crave for after a long day?
MM I love Vermouth. A glass of sweet Vermouth on the rocks with a twist of orange. I am Italian, after all.

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