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Jesse Vida, Atlas’ Head Bartender, Tells Us What Makes A Bar Truly Great

Hint: it sometimes involves gin — lots of it.

Jesse Vida, Atlas’ Head Bartender, Tells Us What Makes A Bar Truly Great

Atlas has long been the darling of Singapore’s nightlife scene for acolytes at home and abroad, so it was with little surprise — but much delight nonetheless — that the bar cinched the title of Best Bar in Asia and a definitive ranking of #4 on this year’s World’s 50 Best Bars list.

We speak to the hotspot’s head bartender Jesse Vida  to get the lowdown on what really makes a bar worthy of the title — and how he and his colleagues behind the counter stay creative.

In your opinion, what would actually make a bar deserving of the ‘World’s Best Bar’ title?  

What makes a bar deserving of the title of “The World’s Best Bar” is simply to win that award. I would certainly expect that the winner would have an amazing ambiance, drink offerings, well trained staff, exceptional service, etc,  which the bars on The World’s 50 Best list do have.

Besides, the list is voted on by respected journalists, industry professionals, and F&B influencers, in an Academy of over 540 voters. As the enjoyment of a particular bar is subjective, the ones that top the list usually encompass every necessary trait of a great bar — plus a little luck and momentum.

As a bartender, how do you stay creative and at the top of your game?

It’s really about staying hungry and not allowing for any complacency. The moment you think you’ve arrived or that you don’t need to learn more or improve, that’s when things fade, and fast. 

I do think visiting other top bars and finding ways to work with and engage with others who are doing great things definitely drives inspiration. I would say that experiencing other bars for creative inspiration, or working on drinks can involve a lot of drinking, but it doesn’t have to. 

Also working with our own team creatively is an awesome way to create a two way street on that front where everyone wins.

Prior to joining Singapore’s Atlas, you were in numerous big-name bars in New York and San Francisco. How would you say the nightlife scene differs in these 3 cities?  

San Francisco, New York, and Singapore are all amazing cities with very different vibes and offerings. I would say Singapore and San Francisco are more comparable in the sense that they are both very urban and international destinations but also smaller in size, less focussed on late night F&B, more of a foodie/cocktail culture engaged in by the general public, and a bit more laid back in general.

New York is definitely more of a late night city, more driven by classic drinks and generally less of a culinary focus on drinks by comparison. You can’t really compare the energy level of New York to anywhere else, but I’d say Hong Kong and NY are more similar to each other in that way. 

I love all three cities but I’m very happy to be in Singapore right now.

How would you say the lockdown and pandemic has affected you personally and professionally? 

It’s hard to fully quantify the personal and professional effect of the lockdown and pandemic.  I would say personally it was tough as I live alone and things were so strict here that I literally didn’t hug or high five another human for about 3 months. That said, it did create a lot of opportunity to connect with people in other ways, to spend time on self-learning, and also embrace the challenges of shifting operations at the bar.   

The shifts at the bar and the professional challenges were immense in a different way. We went immediately to only pick-up and delivery cocktails and changed operations completely on the drop of a hat. On the bar side, it was figuring out what drinks work, more non-perishable options, and having a range of cocktails and other drinks packages for guests to engage in. 

Then for the greater team, packaging, delivery logistics, and just following the ever changing protocols of the country. Today we are somewhat the same as we were before the lockdown but also very different. Everything is forever changed and we’ve found ways to offer a product that is true to what we are, but also is desirable and digestible at this current time in the world. 

Some people think that there isn’t much artistry to be had in bartending — that most of it has to do with precise measurements and using a fixed set of ingredients. What’s your take on that? 

I would say the artistry of bartending is spread out into so many aspects, all of which do at times require tools of some sort. There is an art to stirring a perfect martini, nailing the temperature and dilution, spreading the oils of the lemon peel evenly and at the right distance. 

So yes, we may have used a measurement device to get there, but that’s the easy part. There’s art in working out every small detail and testing different measurements to get that Martini to the perfect spot before the guest comes in and orders it. There’s art to the movement of the bartender, their control of each guests’ experience. 

There’s art in a smile at just the right time, I could go on forever, but simply, the tools are necessary to make the art truly shine.

Given that Atlas is most known for its gin collection: are you a gin man? 

I am a kid in a candy store running one of the world’s great gin bars. I’ve always loved gin and many of my all-time favourite drinks feature gin. 

My dessert island drink is a Negroni, no questions or hesitation on my side. It’s bitter, it’s sweet, it’s great before a meal, after a meal, and on its own. 

To me it’s the all-time greatest and most adaptable drink in the context of setting.

What can we expect from you and Atlas for the coming year?

Both Atlas and I will seek out ways to create the best versions of ourselves. We embrace the reality that things are completely subject to change at any moment during these times. 

We have some great plans and ideas to continue to embrace the cocktail scene both locally and all around the globe. We have just launched our new cocktail menu “Le Grande Nation” that was about 8 months in the making. As always you will see us trying to be a leader in the category of gin and gin education. 

And martinis. Definitely lots of martinis both for myself and ATLAS alike.

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