Chanel Adams of Bamboo Bar at MOBKK | All Mixed Up


All Mixed Up: Chanel Adams of Bamboo Bar at Mandarin Oriental BKK

Our continent loves a good drink. To cool off from our temperate weather and hot food, you can find us huddled in an airconned bar, sipping on something cool, sexy, and clean. To celebrate our boozing culture, All Mixed Up explores the stories behind Asia’s famed mixologists, bartenders, and cupbearers that make our tipples and what makes them tick.

Originally hailing from the U.S., Chanel Adams began her cocktail-creation journey beginning at Washington DC's barmini by José Andrés. She has since become a bar star in the complete other side of the world, concocting tantalizing drinks in Bangkok, formerly Hong Kong. Although a jetsetter from a young age, her encounter with Hong Kong during her time as a Japan-based study abroad student captivated her in a way like never before, drawing her back to the city after a stint in F&B back home.

Taking a leap of faith at a crossroads – with one path potentially leading to a career as an Assistant Cocktail Innovator in a lab – Chanel brought her talent to Hong Kong, where she spent five years across various concept-driven establishments.

From working with trailblazer May Chow in conceptualizing the drinks menu at Happy Paradise, to taking part in launching the iconic New York speakeasy PDT at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong, to now heading The Bamboo Bar at Bangkok’s Mandarin Oriental hotel, her roster is one that proudly shimmers with a range of distinct venues.

Speaking to The Beat Asia, Chanel reflects on her latest lap in Asia, how travel inspires her creative cocktail process, and reveals the elements that make Hong Kong and Bangkok each so unique.

Chanel Adams of Bamboo Bar at Mandarin Oriental BKK

What’s it like to return to PDT Hong Kong after nearly half a decade of operations?

I'm super relieved to come back because it seems the team is just as strong. They were able to pick it up beautifully. I saw some people who I've worked with in the past, like Ken who was at MO Bar, it's so nice to see people mature and for PDT to keep going in a really positive way. It feels like a homecoming almost.

Do you feel as though PDT Hong Kong has progressed in a way that is different compared to the PDT in New York?

I can’t really compare the two just because they are very different. Being part of the PDT team HK here - even myself, I was quite new to Asia at that point and was only here for about a year and a half – I always felt like the bar had to take a natural progression towards becoming a more local team. A more Asian team in the long run. It had to become whatever Hong Kong needed it to be, that’s the point of a bar, right?

[Launching] PDT Hong Kong, Jim and Jeff were both here, it was their drinks and they worked with Adam (Former PDT HK Head Bartender) very closely to create the menu. In terms of the opening, I was the person they brought in to help execute. I could answer all the questions from either the local team or from the New York team, so I had more of an understanding as to how to bridge the gap between [the two cities] as markets – I could literally be that bridge for them.

Chanel Adams of Bamboo Bar at Mandarin Oriental BKK

What would you say is the core ethos of PDT Hong Kong?

The beauty of PDT is it's classic. I joined PDT because my previous bar experience was more molecular and creative, I was a very green bartender and got thrown into the Willy Wonka-side of making cocktails, and I felt like I needed to have a better understanding of the classics in a significant way. That's what PDT is - working on classics, not a lot of ingredients, very clean prep.

How does it compare to the one of Bamboo Bar in Bangkok?

It's totally the opposite. At Bamboo Bar, I focus on ingredients. The point of the whole menu was to make drinks that you could only get at the Bamboo Bar, because it's hyper-local for Thai flavours.

If you look at the Bamboo Bar menu, you can either order the drinks alcoholic or non-alcoholic for seven of them, because the point was to focus on the product. I wanted to focus on the overall flavour profile, rather than focusing on just the spirit.

Which particular Bamboo Bar drink has been the most well received at your guest pop-ups?

I was asked to do [a guest shift at] PDT Hong Kong this summer and it's relatively smaller than Bamboo Bar, so I did a complete takeover. I took the cocktails I thought would do the best in Hong Kong and that were possible to replicate. The quality of the ingredients that we're using [at Bamboo Bar] are in a premium tier, and I wanted to be able to see what I could bring over and see what the market in Hong Kong would actually enjoy.

The Green Mango Bee’s Knees sold out very quickly. Even at my other guest shifts at The Diplomat, and in Tokyo and Shenzhen, it sold out very quickly. So that’s been the bestselling drink outside [of Bangkok] because it’s the most ‘Thai.’ It’s got green mango, chilli, so everyone drinks it and are like ‘Oh my gosh, I’m in Thailand!’

Chanel Adams of Bamboo Bar at Mandarin Oriental BKK

How does the drinks and mixology scene differ between the cities of Bangkok and Hong Kong?

Bangkok is massive, so it's hard to say there’s one general theme there. I feel like, the [drinks] scene of when I first moved to Hong Kong, is where Bangkok is right now. It’s not so expensive to open a bar, but I do think that people try to stay very true to Thailand, whether they’re Thai or not. I think that like Thailand has the best fruit I've ever seen in the world. They have beautiful ingredients, and they have a really cool palate.

There is a lot of talent in the city, and in Bangkok, the people who have already been the OG’s of the scene are able to be opening more and more bars, and they’re able to train more and more people. In Bangkok, the scene is growing so much that I think where it will be in three years is dramatically different than where it is now.

I would say, in Hong Kong, the scene is much more mature because of the level of what you need to open in Hong Kong, the competition, and the price point. Hong Kong, you also naturally have to focus on spirits, just because products are not as available as easily.

Where do you draw inspiration from, and how do you translate the influences into your drinks?

I’ve always been very ingredient focused in my craft. When I used to work at barmini by José Andrés, I worked with chefs mainly, so it was always very ingredient focused work and then everything works around it. That hasn’t changed for me, and I think at my time in PDT, I tried to be more focused on spirits in general. When I was doing a lot of consulting in Hong Kong, I tried to be very true to whatever the theme [of the establishment] is.

I am also partially influenced by other kinds of people in the scene as well. I awkwardly stalk pastry shops online quite a lot, and chocolatiers because I love coffee, so it’s an easy way to get flavour inspirations and flavour combinations you might not expect. Aside from that I try to travel a lot, I’ve grown up travelling and I’m quite lucky to draw inspiration from that!

Chanel Adams of Bamboo Bar at Mandarin Oriental BKK

What cities would you like to explore next, and where would you like to drink there?

I really want to go to Seoul! I grew up in an area that was very Korean, so I just want to go eat everything. And they also like spicy food, so I think whatever I find there will probably do quite well in Thailand. To drink at, I would say: Zest, Southside Parlor, Bar Cham. There’s a lot but those are the three main ones so far.

A city I want to go back to is Ho Chi Minh. I've been to Vietnam a lot, but I haven't been to Ho Chi Minh properly. I'm quite curious to see the scene now, even though COVID was kind of difficult. I know that it grew quite a lot.

It’s hard to tell from the Internet with [the bars to try in] Ho Chi Minh because it’s just not covered as well. The Pi is one that I want to visit because they’ve reached out to me, but I also want to see everything, and do a few local food tours and explore. It’s an easier place to kind of just wander and figure it out as you go.

What’s in store for Chanel Adams?

I'm focusing on the Bamboo Bar - that's all I really care about. It's always been my favourite bar. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Keep up with Chanel on Instagram at @typicalchanel

Enjoyed this article? Check out our previous All Mixed Up profiles here.

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