The passionate bar manager from Mexico gets candid about his inspirations and his decision to fly halfway across the world to helm one of Asia’s top bars

Ozone bar, a dream destination for cocktail lovers for its lofty perch atop The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong, and its imaginative cocktails, is now headed by the affable and talented bar manager, Oscar E. Mena, who hails from Mexico.

Easily distinguishable by his moustache, he showed off his skills at the recent Stellar Dining Series at The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong, alongside fellow mixologist Kentaro Wada from The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo. He also admitted that it was an early exposure to the world of fine gastronomy that sparked his interest in the art of mixology.

“I grew up surrounded by delicious food and drinks,” he tells, adding that it was through his travels and exploration of the bar scene in countries like France, Belgium and Spain that he realised that it wasn’t only chefs who could mix and match flavours.

This led him to his first bartending job at Light Bar in St. Martin’s Hotel, London, which, he recalls, was more than 10 years ago. He has since gained more experience working for lauded watering holes such as Sushi Samba London, Ronnie Scotts’ Jazz Club and Scarfes Bar of Rosewood London and COYA Mayfair.

It was only last year that he moved to this side of the world to helm Ozone. He tells us about making Hong Kong his new home, and his plans for the bar.

(Related: Michelin Stargazing: Introducing Stellar Dining Series By The Ritz-Carlton)

What attracted you to move to Hong Kong?
Oscar E. Mena (OEM) It was more about the experience—I am always inspired by new places I live in. I’ve never worked in Asia but heard great things about it, so I easily said yes to this exciting opportunity.

How would you compare the bar scene in London and Hong Kong?
OEM London will always be known as the city with a vibrant bar scene. But the industry in Asia—particularly Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai and Japan—is growing rapidly, too. That’s why it’s a great time to be here, especially with the interesting things that are happening now.

Have you got exciting plans for Ozone?
OEM I would like to change the menu, and that's what I’m working on with my talented team. I also want to focus on the hospitality and human side of the business to give our guests a stellar experience every time they visit.

We've heard that you've also found a way to inject your Mexican heritage.
OEM I use a lot of agave-based spirits because there are many different aspects to them—whether they’re smoky or sweet. I use mezcal and tequila for their earthiness with woody notes to add a different layer to my cocktails.

(Related: Starry Bites: The Ritz-Carlton Chefs Shine Bright For The Stellar Dining Series In Hong Kong And Beijing)

If you had to pick a signature drink we should try on our next visit, what would it be?
OEM You’re more than welcome to try The Lower Floor, an interesting mix of Olmeca Reposado tequila, lapsang tea and chocolate bitters, which is one of the drinks I presented at the Stellar Dining Series.

Where do you find your inspiration?
OEM I get bursts of creativity from places I visit or the theme of a new project, and then I research (more) about the location, its culture and flavours.

What did you enjoy most about the culinary festival?
OEM For us bartenders and chefs, it was a good platform to share our techniques and learn from each other. We also saw the high level of talent and skill of F&B personalities in Asia, which inspired us to step up our game.

Did you learn anything from Kentaro Wada of The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo?
OEM I am a big fan of Japanese bartending techniques. With Kentaro, I picked up his way of shaking his three-piece shaker. He does it in such a cool way.

What’s a cocktail that best represents you?
OEM Margaritas. You can make it sweet and fruity, classic or slightly sour.

If there was a cocktail you wished you had invented, what would it be?
OEM The Manhattan. I am a big fan of classic cocktails.