Drinks Podcast: Suwincha ‘Chacha’ Singsuwan

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Suwincha ‘Chacha’ Singsuwan on opening a bar every year, the Bangkok drinks scene and waterbug infusions.

This week we have the wonderful Suwincha Singsuwan or more commonly known as “Cha Cha”.   She’s like a little celebrity in Bangkok behind some of the best bars in the city.

Some of the bars she heads are Rabbit hole, which is currently number 34 best bar in Asia, Liberation with Thailand Diageo World Class winner “Gov” and late last year saw the launch of her latest venue the Crimson Room. 

She has been an integral part of changing the landscape of the drink scene in Bangkok and I think you going to like hearing about her story. 

Podcast Highlights

“The waterbug end result actually tastes like a pear, a little bit peachy and a little bit fermented.”  

And after, Rabbit Hole was successful, we had a dream. We spoke about what we should do next? Are we going to stop at Rabbit Hole? Are we just gonna keep going? If we keep going, what we’re gonna do?.” 4:20

“A little bit peachy, a little bit pear, a little bit like fermented fruit. Those kinds of stuff. So how to get the flavour out of the water bug, they were infused first. And then they’d go through rotovap to get that.” 10:40

Yes. Late last year we had Rabbit Hole disco. Last year was crazy. It was epic. And then, this year, we will do it again, with our neighbour. Our neighbour will be Havana Social, Sing sing Theatre and Polygon from Hong Kong.” 20:30

Key Resources From Our Interview With Suwincha Singsuwan



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Full Transcript 


Christopher: Hello, Chacha, how are you? Thanks for joining us today On The Back Bar.

Chacha:  Hi.

Christopher: How are you doing?

Chacha: Very good, thank you. And you?

Christopher:  Not too bad. Not too bad. I’m loving the weather in Bangkok right now, it’s a lot cooler.

Chacha:  [laughter] It’s cold. It’s chill.

Christopher:  For me it’s perfect. So we’ve done a slight introduction about you, and your role in Bangkok. And could you tell us a bit more about your own personal development here, and some of the projects you’ve worked on over your time in Bangkok?

Chacha: Okay. At the moment we just recently opened Crimson room for two months. Yeah, nearly two months. And then on January the ninth, we will open another bar called Draft Land – Cocktail Untapped.

Christopher:  Wow. Okay.

Chacha: So, in total, in our group, we should have – Draft Land, Crimson Room, Liberation, and Rabbit Hole.

Christopher:  Brilliant. And we’re going to talk about each one today.

Chacha: Sure.

Christopher: I remember you did a talk for 50 Best in Singapore. And you actually mentioned, one of your targets was to open a bar every year.

Chacha: [laughter].

Christopher: That sounds crazy to me. How do you do that? You know?

Chacha: No, because actually, I spoke with the team before that.

Christopher: Right.

[04:08]

Chacha: So, right, since I joined the group four years ago, I joined the group in 2015. And then four years ago we just talking about, okay, we’re going to open the bar, a bar that has never been open in Thailand before, which is Rabbit Hole, we were focusing on. Because the owner, who is the father of the group, they are travelers, that actual travel. So they travel all around the world, and they drink, eat, do the lifestyle. But then, when they come back, to Thailand, they don’t see anything like that. So the first mission was Rabbit Hole. And after, Rabbit Hole was successful, we had a dream. We spoke about what we should do next? Are we going to stop at Rabbit Hole? Are we just gonna keep going? If we keep going, what we’re gonna do? So how are we going to continue, what we actually want to do? So, it ended up with, since year one, we say okay, we’re going to open a bar every year.

Christopher:  Wow, that’s great.

Chacha: And yes, but it started from there. And then, we had year plan, two year ahead. This year what we’re going to do, next year, what we’re going do.

Christopher: And talking about Rabbit Hole, Rabbit Hole’s had great success. And it’s currently the 34th best bar in Asia? Is that correct?

Chacha: Yes, it is.

Christopher: Wow. Is that a lot of pressure, for you and the team?

Chacha: No, it’s the same. [laughter] We do the same thing. It’s not pressure or anything, because I know that I have a wonderful team, and then they can do like a lot more.

Christopher: Can you tell us about Rabbit Hole? It’s a speakeasy type of place, isn’t it? It’s quite hard to find on Thonglor?

Chacha:  It’s hard to find, yes. So when we start Rabbit Hole, there was no bar around that area. It’s only nightclub in TungLok. So, there tend to be lots of nightclub in there, but there’s not a proper bar in there. When we opened it, the speak easy ideas and stuff, it was not that at all, at first. What was the original design, was to cover the entrance and everything. And no glass mirror or anything at all. It was to prevent the guest privacy. So the people cannot see through, and then, so the guests in there, they can be more private. And then again, with the sign thing, we have a sign actually, but then, we designed the plate, the side plate, and then we decided the door after. When the door come, and then we put the side plate, it doesn’t fit. So it looks…

Christopher:  So way. Really?

Chacha: Yes. Before, it was not that big wooden door, it was something else. it was more industrial in that. Yes. So then the sign was quite industrial. So we still kept the sign. After we opened for two weeks, we got the sign, we’re trying to stick it on, and it doesn’t look good at all. After two hour, we take it out. And then we was thinking that we’re going to design another one, but then, we never did actually.

Christopher: Right.

Chacha: So it still has no sign and stuff. It is difficult to find. It is a little bit, yes. But if you follow the Google map, it will actually let you right in front of the bar.

Christopher: Yeah. And can you tell us about the cocktails?

Chacha: The cocktails. When we started, we go for minimal. We have quite a big list in the menu. Normally, we have between 40 up to fifty cocktails. The wine by the category, it just… because we have a lot of guests for each night. And we were afraid that we don’t have time to explain to them, each cocktail. We don’t have time to go through. So I decided to put the menu in categories. They are like, this page is refreshing, this one’s dry, fragrance, savoury, spirit-forward, and it’s easy for them to choose. And we focusing a lot more with a homemade stuff. If you go through the menu, you see a different homemade ingredients that create different tastes, and different style of the cocktails as well, that’s what we like to do.

Christopher: Yes. And I love the fact that you use homemade ingredients. It is something I used to do too. Liberation, the next bar we talk about. There’s actually a sort of laboratory there, right?

[08:38]

Chacha: I’m sorry.

Christopher: They actually have a lab, with all the scientific equipment to make it.

Chacha: Yes.

Christopher:  That’s yeah, that’s impressive. I’ve seen it. And can you tell us about where that kind of comes from? And so there’s one thing I want to talk about today about Liberation, the Water Bug cocktail. Can we go into that?

Chacha: Yes. So I have to start first, when we had the idea of Liberation. We had the head bartender first, the head and the senior bartender.

Christopher: Right.

Chacha: Which is P’Gov and Joey, they are both good friends and they both are very talented. So the menu came from these two, mainly.

Christopher: Right.

Chacha: And then, the water bug idea was, we want to have… like when we travel, and we see people have a lab, we went to Operation Deco, and say, shit there’s a big lab.

Christopher: Yeah it’s pretty cool.

Chacha: So jealous. Operation DECA before, there was open lab. And you can see from outside, and everything that a bartender would ever dream off. We were there. The whole team was there, and they were like, ohh, that… what’s that? What is that? What is that? And then we were [laughter] It was like, a kid looking through at a toy. And then yes, we say, okay, we should get a Rotovap? We should have a lab, a proper lab. So we decided we should get a rotovap. So what can you do with the rotovap? What can we create more and what can we create to make it different from this? So then, one of the ingredients was water bug. Water bug is actually… at the end result, it tastes like pear.

Christopher: Wow.

[10:21]

Chacha: A little bit peachy, a little bit pear, a little bit like fermented fruit. Those kinds of stuff. So how to get the flavour out of the water bug, they were infused first. And then they’d go through rotovap to get that. Because rotovap is different. It’s totally different. If the orange flavour going in, the end result was not going to be orange anymore, it’s going to be something else. So we experience new things every day, new flavours every day.

Christopher: So you’re always experimenting as well, seeing what works, what doesn’t?

Chacha: Yes.

Christopher: That’s brilliant. And I mean the cocktails you do, along all of the places are very spirit forward, aren’t they?

Chacha: Half of them spiritful forward, yes.

Christopher: Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Well we’ll move on to the next spot then, which is Crimson Room. Which like you said, has been opened two months?

Chacha: Yes.

Christopher: I went there for the soft launch, and it’s a beautiful venue. Really is.

Chacha: Thank you.

Christopher: It’s stunning. I saw some of the glassware. You’ve got one, which is bird-shaped.

Chacha: The bird, yes.

Christopher: Yeah, you knew which one. Are you happy so far with Crimson, a couple of months in?

[11:34]

Chacha:  I am. I am very much. I am happy with this place very much. First of all, the place actually come out exactly like what we would imagine in the first place. Yes. Because we wanted to have… right now, it is one of our dream, which is a jazz bar. So what jazz bar that, Bangkok doesn’t have it yet. So you have New Orleans dash you had like you have a lot more jazz. Many places open and play jazz. Yeah. But then, we want modern jazz. We want experience with a jazz band as well. So our jazz is, stand up jazz, sometime. Acid jazz. Sometimes we go pop a little bit, depends on the crowd that day. Because we changed the jazz band every day. And then, we have the players, we have the jazz, and then we have the cocktail. We have the selection. But if you go through the menu, manly, we are focusing on champagnes. Because, this bar, the theme of the bar is celebration. Yes. So we go, something that, what we can celebrate. So when people celebrate, what are they going to? They’re going something fancy, they go for champagne., they’ll go for cocktail that they can take picture and laugh about it.

Christopher: Okay. And can you tell us about some of the cocktails, like one of your favorites on the menu?

Chacha: One of my favorite on the menu is bee pollen. The one with the bird.

Chacha: Ohh, okay.

Chacha: So the bird glass, actually, the first idea I bought it for. So, I’m not a glass man yet, but we need to have good, good glassware. And when I see somebody else, at another bar have a better glassware I’d be maaadd. I’d be so mad.

Christopher: [laughter] [13:27]

Chacha: [laughter] So first, I got that bird glass for one year, it was in Rabbit Hole. But then it doesn’t fit with the theme, Rabbit Hole theme.

Christopher: Okay.

Chacha: I always want to use that glass. I have like 12 of them first, at the beginning. And then, I said, okay, Crimson Room, we need that glassware. So, all the glassware shopping, it comes from Singapore, and we ship it to here.

Christopher: Right.

Chacha: And then, the bee pollen cocktail, it start with Non, our senior bartender. So he used to work in [inaudible 00:14:02] Thailand, and issues today, which was focusing on the honey.

Christopher: Yes. Pretty [inaudible 00:14:06].

Chacha: So he used that idea, to create the homemade caramelized bee pollen and Thyme.

Christopher: Wow.

Chacha: So that cocktail is based on Hendrick’s gin, Yellow Shadows. Which is Shadows have a lot of herb, but yellow shadow give some chocolate tastes, chocolate notes. And then, with some citrus and caramelized bee pollens and thymes.

Christopher: Wow. Sounds delicious. Sounds really good.

Chacha: Thank you. It is very good.

Christopher: So I mean Chacha, where do you like to hang out in the city? Where do you go and drink?

Chacha: That’s difficult, because you see, I’m in TungLok, I go the most convenient, which is backstage, or locker room.

Christopher: Okay.

Chacha: Ohhh, Liberation.

Christopher: So it’s always cocktails for you?

Chacha: I use the like spirit, but not very much, because it does not get me a hangover, and beside that, I don’t like drinking cues. But then, you see after drinking a lot for a very long time, [laughter] now I drink low AVB.

[15:17]

Christopher:  Yeah? Okay. Wow. I mean I have to say congratulations because what you’ve done for the bars here in Bangkok is incredible.

Chacha: Thank you.

Christopher: And I think there’s been a big change right in the last five or 10 years.

Chacha: Yes, it is.

Christopher: I mean, what was it like when you first started bartending?

Chacha: Oh, it was, it was very difficult and tough. I’ve been bartending for 14 years, and then back then, it was no Google, no YouTube, it was like a copy of a book. I couldn’t even afford to buy a book. And then mainly, the book was written in English. I couldn’t understand. I didn’t understand it that time. My English was not that good.

Christopher: Right.

Chacha: So I didn’t understand it. And then I couldn’t afford to buy English books, so I have to get a copy from, the bartender before. And then, go to the bar every day just to ask them… stay at the bar, always. Like if I work an hour, I’ll be at the bar nine hours in the bar and then just ask them, questioning them, what is this, what is that? So difficult, when they would start.

Christopher: And what was your first bar, you worked in?

Chacha: I was working in a nightclub called Glow. In Secondment 23.

Christopher: Right. And it’s very different to what you’re doing now, isn’t it?

Chacha:  Yeah, [laughter] that I, you know, I didn’t even know that I’m gonna end up like this because when I first bartending, I was a bar back. And then, step up to the bartender, and then the senior in there, one of the bartenders who was the main guy, he would say, I don’t think you are the club woman. I think you more like a restaurant, and hotel, you should go for that. And after working in a night club for 10 months, I actually moved to a restaurant.

[17:09]

Christopher: Oh wow. So you took his advice?

Chacha: Yes, I did. And he was right. Because the night club is, nightclub life. I’m not a fan. I like to party, but I’m not, I don’t feel like I would enjoy it anymore if I have to go back and work for a nightclub. And then, after that, after 10 months, I never work in a club again. Just hotels, and restaurant, and then I feel like, ah, this is good. Yeah. You know this is more of me.

Christopher: So what was the point in your career where, you turned around to yourself and you thought, wow, okay, I’m actually starting to be a big bartender here? What was that point for you?

Chacha: Was like, probably eight years ago, seven, eight years ago, I was the first time working in a hotel, was eight years ago. And then I got, they forced me to go into competition. I never compete before.

Christopher: Right, they forced you.

Chacha: Yeah, the hotel forced me to go and then you got to put into one room. I never met so much bartender before. In that room, they have more than 30 bartenders sitting in there. And then I look at everybody. I did not know anybody at all. And then, after that, we start to hang. We sat, we share information, and then from that point, I start to develop myself so fast. And then yes, and then get to experience and then exchange opinion with another bartender. And then from that point, I develop so fast, and I start to feel confident, and then go back to compete, and start to win some price.

Christopher: Good.

[18:52]

Chacha: And then I know that, ahh I can do something. So I start to, how’d you say that? Actually, speaking out what is my style. It just started like eight years ago. I am speaking out, this is my staff. I would like to do this. This is what I like to share with you. This is my Monomi cocktail. And then people start to listen because they actually get to taste, and they like it. They enjoyed it. And ahh, that’s so good.

Christopher: What was the first competition you won?

Chacha: I won a Bacardi Legacy Cocktail Competition in 2012.

Christopher:  Oh, wow. That’s the big one. I say one of the top. Congratulations, 2012.

Chacha: Thank you.

Christopher: Wow. And do you remember the cocktail you made for that?

Chacha:  Yes.

Christopher: Okay.

Chacha: I remember the text. My friend texts me, about it and they say, would you like to compete in this competition? I said, do you know that my cocktail’s deferent? He was laughing so bad. He was laughing his head off. He said, I understand, but I think you should try. So I submit the recipe with rum, cognac, coffee, two bar spoon of sugar. That was my recipe.

Christopher: That was the recipe? Wow.

Chacha:  Yes. [laughter]

Christopher:  And then that got you through.

Chacha: And then I won. I won with that recipe.

Christopher: Fantastic.

[20:08 ]

Chacha: Because I think maybe, at that time, back then, bartending or our cocktail scene, did not have something like that. More spirit forward, no fruit, no juice. This is not a tiki cocktail. This is not a refreshing cocktail. This is not a tropical cocktail that you come and see in the menu. So maybe that’s why I won that one.

Christopher: Okay, fantastic. Another thing we’re going to mention is, that Wonder Fruit is coming up, which is a festival in Bangkok, just outside. It’s on the 12th of December. And you said that Rabbit Hole is going to be some stuff there, right?

Chacha: Yes. Late last year we had Rabbit Hole disco. Last year was crazy. It was epic. And then, this year, we will do it again, with our neighbour. Our neighbour will be Havana Social, Sing sing Theatre and Polygon from Hong Kong.

Christopher: Brilliant. So it’s going to be a popup bar?

Chacha: Yes.

Christopher: Okay.

Chacha: With proper pop. Not pop up. Big, quite big though.

Christopher: Yeah.

Chacha: When you say pop up bar, you normally think of two bartenders standing with a few cocktails. But for us, it’s 10 bartenders [laughter] by the bar stations.

Christopher: Oh, wow. Yes. It’s a big pop up then.

Chacha: Yes, it’s a big, big pop up bar. We are going to be serving alcohol from daytime until 4:00 a.m. I think.

Christopher: Oh. Are you going to be working the bar?

Chacha: I’ll been dancing and drinking behind the bar. Yes. [laughter].

[21:41]

Christopher:  Okay. You do quite a lot of traveling and guest bartender shifts. What was the most recent one you did?

Chacha: In Bali.

Christopher: Wow.

Chacha: We did an opening party for Slumber Party. Slumber Party is one of our friend’s bar.

Christopher: Okay.

Chacha: So we are kind of friends in the industry, sort of went, okay, we’re going to open a new bar in Bali, so would you like to do it? So I brought me and Nun from Crimson Room. We did that party, so it was so much fun.

Christopher:  I’m jealous as well. Partying in Bali.

Chacha: Bali is heaven. Everybody loves Bali.

Christopher:  And this might be a strange question, but, I found that bartenders tend to have strange pets and animals. [laughter] And I say… you’re laughing now. So I’ve got a hedgehog, which is quite a strange one, exotic, but you’ve got a couple of strange…

[22:35]

Chacha:  I have African Socrata turtles.

Christopher: Yeah. And for anyone that doesn’t know, they’re huge, aren’t they?

Chacha: They are three years old. They are 40 inches and weight around 15 kilogram at the moment. I couldn’t pick them up. There is two of them. They’re too big. When I first had them there were so, so tiny. Two, probably two inches I remember. And now they’re 40.

Christopher: So you’ve got one, which is Abraham, right? And steal from it’s codes.

Chacha: The big brother is, Tyson River and the baby one, the younger, is called, Abraham in Forest.

Christopher: Love it. Fantastic, well Chacha, that’s everything I was going to ask you today. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Chacha: Thank you very much, for today.

[23:25]

Christopher: No, it’s been great. And so good luck for everything.

Chacha: Thank you.

Christopher: You mentioned you have a new bar coming out, for Cocktails On Tap, right?

Chacha: Wait, yes. We will open on January in the new Common Project. So the new common will be in Sathorn Sala daeng. Quite different from the first common in TungLok.

Christopher: Right.

Chacha: There is going to be the same, which is a community mall, open for everybody all day. Like hanging out, bring your laptops and stuff, and in the cocktail hour, the cocktail will be Cocktail On Tap.

[23:59]

Christopher: Wow.

Chacha: So the place is called Draft Land, like the one in Taiwan. So actually, a Draft Land team from Taiwan, together with us. And then, this is the project coming up to.

Christopher: Fantastic. Looking forward to it. Chacha, enjoy the rest of your day. Thank you.

Chacha: Thank you ka.

Christopher:  So I hope you enjoyed the show, guys. As much as I love recording it. Next week we have David Levasseur. David Levasseur is a grower in champagne. He produces a fantastic [inaudible 24:35] bottles. And to talk to him be subscribed, give us a rating and also find us on Spotify, Sound Cloud soon. We’re ready to just try to get out there, but once again, I appreciate all you guys listening and I really hope to have you been next week. Thanks, guys. Chris out.



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