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The Best Of Hong Kong
Lifestyle News
By Gayatri Bhaumik | March 25th, 2019

A pioneer and visionary in the global lifestyle and hospitality industry, Philippe Nguyen is a respected industry veteran who’s working on everything from restaurants and bars to entertainment hotspots and even resorts.

Through a varied career, Philippe Nguyen has worked with recognizable names in different capacities. He’s served as Brand Marcom for Galaxy Macau; Food & Beverage Consultant for The Classified Chain, Tazmania Ballroom and Lily & Bloom; and Director of Food & Beverage for Epicurean Limited; and helped launch CocoBay Resort in Da Nang.

Now, Nguyen has brought his considerable expertise to bear on a chic new drinking den in Central. Tucked into an easily accessible space above Wyndham Street, The ThirtySix is a sleek bar that recalls the golden age of train travel while paying tribute to whisky, highballs and women. Here’s what Nguyen had to say on creating The ThirtySix, and his experiences in hospitality.

What drew you to the industry?

I like to entertain friends and family with good foods, drinks and good vibes.

How did you get your start in the industry?

In 1991, I got the opportunity to open my first concept restaurant and bar, Crazy Eight in San Francisco. I must admit we were more successful with the after party than our food, which was French/American comfort food.

How did you come up with the concept for The ThirtySix?

We never intended to open our own bar. The opportunity just came up and we made the jump for nostalgia’s sake. The space used to be Homebase, our favourite after-hours hang out. We were looking to create a place where you could enjoy a different drinking experience with some good tunes.

How did The ThirtySix get its name?

Browsing through some press about design, a friend suggested to the name The ThirtySix. It stands for the 36 copper still pots used for distilling Macallan whisky at their new distillery.

Is there a particular experience that stands out as a watershed moment in your career?

In 2006 while I was a GM of 1/5 lounge, my former employer gave me the opportunity to lead the concept development for The Venetian Macao’s signature restaurant, Portofino. From then on, I knew my calling was to develop concepts.

Why did you decide to include The Vault at the bar?

[Editor’s note: The Vault is a cage-like structure at The ThirtySix where regulars can store their bottles of whisky under lock and key in between drinking sessions]

Instead of having a standard bottle display, I wanted to add a playful note to the design. I was thinking about what a James Bond villain’s vault would look like. It has to be highly secure to protect prized items, but at the same time it needs to be a little kitsch. The classic lock is a reference to the origins of both James Bond and whisky: Scotland and Castle.

What do you think makes a great cocktail?

A divine cocktail is one that lets all the notes and subtleties of the main spirit shine through.

What are you favorite spirits and ingredients to work with?

Raicilla, a cousin of Mezcal meets Tequila and homemade infused soda.

Can you describe your process for creating a cocktail?

First, I avoid trying to invent a new cocktail. I prefer working on a classic cocktail and innovating it with new techniques and adding on an extra element to bring out certain notes that were not there in the original recipe.

Where do you find inspiration for your cocktails?

I dig into the origin and/or story of the classic recipe, or look into the history of the spirit itself.

Why focus on highballs and whisky?

I wanted to elevate a simple, classic cocktail to an art form. Highballs are not just about Whisky and soda, but the marriage of a great spirit and the carbonated water.

What do you look for in the perfect highball?

On its surface, the Highball is one of the simplest cocktails out there. Yet when perfected, it turns into a delicate, refreshing and flavorful libation that’s more complex than it appears. The devil is in the details in this drink, and not just for the recipe but in its construction. Each thing that the bartender is doing for a drink has a purpose: using the right ice, chilling the glasses, stirring a certain number of times, building the cocktail, getting the drink to the correct temperature, maximizing carbonation, and showcasing clean, bright flavors.

All this thought and preparation goes into an individual drink. The hallmark is super careful preparation. Achieving that delicious outcome is more difficult when simplicity remains the goal, and small missteps are amplified because there’s less to hide it.  It’s a delicate balance, there’s a lot of flavor—it’s not just Whisky and soda.

The result is minimalist, sometimes translucent, and always ingenious mixology. Drinks that look so simple to make but offer many layers of flavor.

Why put a particular focus on women and whisky?

Not long ago, I discovered a few whiskies that we carry were distilled or blended by women. The story not only intrigued me, but I found these whiskies were easy to drink, approachable and they have a certain feminine nuance on the aroma.

What do you hope people take away from their visit to The ThirtySix?

I want to deliver a better drinking experience.

What’s next for you?

The journey continues in discovering new food, drinks and design.

 

Dishin’ the Dirt profile.