Cover David Ong shakes up the bar scene across and beyond the nation with drinks that push familiar boundaries (Photo: Eunice Sanchez)

Get to know the man behind some of the country’s most decorated bars, bartender and barista David Ong, in this rapid-fire Q&A

Internationally acclaimed bartender and barista David Ong is best known as one of the eminent faces behind Oto and The Curator, two of the country’s most decorated bars—and with legions of concepts unfolding under his wing, he emboldens the industry to flourish alongside them.

How would you describe your title/profession?

I’m a barista and a bartender! I make coffee and cocktails.

How did you first get into F&B industry?

My first foray into Food and Beverage was when I worked as a barista in 2007 at My Cup, a quaint coffee shop in Vancouver, British Columbia.

What was the beverage that made you fall in love with drinks?

My first proper cocktail bar experience was in 2010 when I remotely celebrated my university graduation at a place called El Coctel in Shanghai, China. Come to think of it, they were just classics done well. I gravitated towards refreshing drinks like Moscow mule and mojito. Harada Munenori was at the helm of the programme and it was awesome.

See also: What Drives a Man to Success? The Curator and Oto's David Ong Tells His Story

How would you describe your philosophy as a bartender and barista?

It’s nice to geek out on coffee and cocktails, but hospitality is always paramount! Treat a normal person like a king or queen, and a king or queen like a normal person.

What do you consider to be your first big project in the F&B industry?

EDSA Beverage Design Group as that’s a bigger investment, and it casts a wider net than The Curator.

What do you consider to be your proudest project in the F&B industry?

The Curator Coffee & Cocktails.

Describe The Curator in three words.

Comfortable, warm, hospitable.

Describe Oto in three words.

Casual, spontaneous, fun.

See also: Asia’s 50 Best Bars Reveals the 51-100 Ranking for 2022

Who would you consider to be your greatest mentor?

My partners, Jericson Co and Kerwin Lo! We continue to learn together to this day.

What do you love most about your job?

Meeting people from all walks of life.

What is the most challenging thing about your job?

Being a good mentor to my colleagues.

What are the latest trends in the bar industry?

Coffee cocktails, clarification, fermentation, and distillation.

What are you most excited about in the bar industry right now?

Borders opening up, and thus guest shifts (featuring baristas from other countries) becoming a thing again.

See also: Bartender’s Handshake: 7 Cocktails to Order to Show You’re in the Know

What is your favourite recent discovery?

Natural wine.

What’s a spirit to look out for, or one that you predict will be huge this year?

Rum.

What was your go-to order when you first became serious about drinks?

Old fashioned.

What is your favourite cocktail to prepare?

Ramos gin fizz

What is your least favourite cocktail to prepare?

None.

See also: Tatler's Guide To The Best Asian Rums

What is your current go-to drinks order?

Milkpunches.

What is your drink of choice?

Gin basil smash.

What is an underrated liquor or cocktail you wish more people appreciated?

Eau de vie.

What makes for a perfect cocktail?

Balance.

See also: What Cocktails do Bartenders Order to Judge Bars?

What would you consider to be your signature cocktail creation?

Several, but the most well-received one is called Escape (described as a clarified piña colada cocktail, a signature at Oto). Though, people seem to enjoy ABCs more, which I introduced as a practical joke to bar industry friends.

What’s in store for you next?

Quite a bit, actually! But I’m most excited about Antonio’s in Manila as well as Hello, Sailor and Sea.Food by Chele [González] in Boracay—we’re on top of the bar programmes.

What do you wish more people understood about the bar industry?

We’re not as intimidating as you think!

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