Arsenio Mariano Jr, Lead Bartender, Nobu Kuala Lumpur

 What do you do and how did you get into the industry?
During my younger years, I was a bar aficionado, especially enjoying the vast arrays of tastes and flavours that come to life through the many drinks on offer. When it came time for me to work, the bar business was the natural choice.
It was not an easy journey, though. My first job was as a bar-back – the job description being cleaning glasses, mopping floors and tending to the needs of the bartenders. It was tough work, but I’m stubborn by nature and not one to give up on something once I’ve set my mind to it!
Following that, I became a junior bartender, but this position only entailed pre-mixing drinks. Everything was made from bottled juices and soda guns, and the understanding of flavours was at a bare minimum. Structure and balance was unheard of, so I decided to figure it out on my own. The simple substitution of fresh ingredients instead of processed artificial ones opened up a whole new drinks’ world for me. From there, I taught myself the classics and I experimented with making my own bitters, liqueurs, fortified wines, and syrups. Fortunately, for me, this foundation was to prove invaluable, as an opportunity came for me to work abroad, and I finally put what I’d learnt into practice. The rest, as they say, is history.
Share with us an interesting story from behind the scenes.
Working behind a bar can be intense, especially when we’re busy. The pressure to produce drinks with precision and flair while maintaining speed and service is demanding. On our down-time, the staff tend to play pranks on each other to blow off some steam. One such prank on one of the newer members of staff involved disguising a bottle of pepper spray as cologne. I think I can leave the rest up to your imagination!
What’s the best/ worst part of your job?
I don’t think I could pick just one best part of being a bartender. I love everything: from building and designing bars and creating drinks, to having the opportunity to start with the vaguest idea and experimenting to getting it right. When I see the bar come to life with people enjoying themselves with my drinks, the feeling of gratification is the best. Also, there are very few jobs that allow you to meet such a wide range of people from different walks of life every day. And of course, being a bartender, I get a lot of invites to a lot of parties.
When it comes to the worst, it would have to be the anticipation of the morning after the night before. It’s a job with late nights and intense pressure, so thinking about getting up the next day can be torture; but I wouldn’t swap it for any other job in the world.
What’s your favourite drink?
One thing every bartender will tell you, is that you have to try every drink you make to be certain its perfect. And after all those different tastes throughout an evening, nothing beats a well-chilled beer.
What’s one of the most memorable things you’ve experienced in your line of work?
I’m a huge fan of the movie “Godfather”, so meeting Robert De Niro when we opened Nobu KL was definitely one of them. I made him drinks and served him a cigar; having the chance to do that was something to tick off the bucket list.
The perfect day off would be…
I think I’m like a lot of people in this respect. I enjoy the great outdoors, the beach, a bar, a barbecue, a picnic…  The list goes on. Anywhere that has good company, good food, drinks and fun activities. On some days, though, nothing is more perfect than staying home with a good book and relaxing in bed.
A day in the life of a bartender is…
Simply put, it’s Rock & Roll, with equal measures of coffee and alcohol to keep me going! This could be just me, though. I can’t speak for the rest of KL’s bartenders.
What’s something you’d like guests to know about Nobu Kuala Lumpur?
The interesting thing about Nobu KL is that many people don’t realise that once you’ve stepped inside it really is a fun, friendly family type of a restaurant.
What’s your favourite food and cocktail pairing?
My preference for a drink is one that will go well with anything, and not just with one type of food. For me, it’s a Negroni – gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. It was the first classic cocktail I learnt how to make and it goes well with everything: as a pre-dinner drink, during dinner and as an digestif.
What’s your view on the KL bar scene?
The bar scene in KL is constantly evolving. At the moment, there has been a large growth in the cocktail bar sector and, along with that, has come a lot more well-trained bartenders. We still have a long way to go to compete against other well-established cities in the Asia Pacific region, but we’re getting there. This is an exciting time for KL in that we are still free to shape the scene into something unique, and hopefully we will see more individual bars doing well, rather than chain bars with generic cocktails on the menu.
What’s in store for you in the upcoming months?
Cocktails of the month. Now that we are debuting Nobu Club Lounge at the weekends, I am going to produce a list of cocktail specials each month to complement our signature list. Expect to see some extraordinary mixes involving the fruit sake infusions.
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