Words by Mika Apichatsakol
Photos by Chaiwat Kangsamrith
“The Cocktail Issue”, April 2023
Highly sought-after for a good reason, wherever bar manager Philip Bischoff goes, awards just seem to follow. Gastronomer Lifestyle gets to the bottom of this bartender’s knack for creating memorable drinking experiences.
Philip Bischoff isn’t just the unmissable bearded manager making drinks and striking up conversations at the bar of the Fours Seaons Hotel Bangkok. He actually sets the tone for the beverage programme at all Four Seasons properties across the Asia-Pacific region, as the hotel group’s beverage ambassador. A serious appointment that puts Thailand at a vantage point when it comes to mixology, the 42-year-old industry veteran definitely has the track record to prove that he was the right man for the job.
Born and raised in Berlin, Philip got his start in the industry at the age of 23, working part-time as a casual for events while studying health management and business administration. Eventually, catering landed him a job at a nightclub, where he was introduced to bartending and really took a liking to it. After two years, it became more apparent to Philip as well as those around him that he was meant for a life in F&B and hospitality. He decided to pursue more experience in the service industry in Switzerland, before returning to Germany to continue on in his bartending journey.
By 27, Philip found himself stationed at the award-winning Le Lion – Bar de Paris, an establishment in Hamburg run by famed German businessman Jörg Meyer, who invented the drink known as the Gin Basil Smash. The experience would prepare him for his next role, running the beverage programme at a then-new Hotel Amano in Berlin. Under Philip’s leadership, the hotel won “Hotel Bar of the Year” and “Bar Team of the Year” at the 2013 Mixology Bar Awards. Philip also started receiving multiple opportunities to travel for guest shifts, from Paris and Moscow to New York and New Orleans. “Suddenly, I found myself part of a group of international bartenders, and it allowed me to look abroad a little bit more,” says Philip about this time in his life.
The turning point in his career came in 2015 when he was offered the opportunity to become the bar manager of the Manhattan bar at the now-defunct Regent Singapore. According to Philip, Singapore was, at the time, on the brink of becoming a global cocktail destination. Manhattan had been open for a year and was seeking new leadership to steer it into prominence. Coming in as “the new guy”, Philip was cognisant of having to quickly find his nook in an already well-established team. After only a couple of months of onboarding, he and the bar team there would be as tight as family for the next three-and-a-half years. In that time, they set up an in-house rickhouse for the bar to be able to elevate their offerings with single-cask cocktails and special handcrafted solera-aged Negronis. Philip also introduced the Manhattan’s American Whiskey Embassy Programme, highlighting unique spirits from the United States, and the Friends of Manhattan Series, a platform for collaboration between industry partners, guest distillers, and bartenders from around the world.
Then gold struck: Manhattan became the Best Bar in Asia in 2017 and 2018 and ranked third globally in the World’s 50 Best Bars list.
Accolades are a nice note of validation, says Philip, but what he is most grateful for from his tenure at Regent Singapore, a Four Seasons hotel, was the opportunity it gave him to come to Thailand in 2019 and join the opening team of the Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok. Speaking about his current place of employment, Philip says, “It has been an amazing journey so far. I’m super proud to be working at this beautiful property on the Chao Phraya River and really happy with the leadership here at the hotel. I’ve been here for four years now, and it’s been incredible to see how the team is growing and how we got through the pandemic together.”
Opened in December 2020 after a series of lockdowns and bans on alcohol sales, the Four Seasons’ BKK Social Club, helmed by Philip, came out strong in the 2022 Asia’s 50 Best Bars and World’s 50 Best Bars, ranking the Best Bar in Thailand and 14th in the world. The bar was also the winner of the London Essence Best New Opening Award in the same year.
As this is “The Cocktail Issue“, we asked the man who has made thousands of drinks over the last two decades to impart some of his philosophy on creating optimal drinks and drink experiences. “Cocktails are one of the main reasons people come to a bar, so they’d better be good and they’d better be tasty.” He continues, “To me, a good cocktail is approachable and understandable, enough to make you want a second or a third.” Like many seasoned bartenders, Bischoff is a fan of simplicity. “I like the classics. Maybe it’s not the most adventurous, but I think that the fundamentals are so important—knowing how to make a good whiskey sour, a good pisco sour, or a good mojito or martini.”
But of course, the drinking experience isn’t just about the drinks. Philip likens BKK Social Club to a big living room inside a house that is the Four Seasons. “Every night, we welcome our friends into our house and into our living space. We want to make everyone feel very comfortable and at home by creating great experiences and being hospitable.”
This is why the beverage manager surrounds himself with a team that lives and breathes service. “I wouldn’t say that skills aren’t important,” says Philip. “Ideally, for a bartender, you should have some standard skills and basic knowledge, but it’s also our responsibility to train these skills and teach the knowledge. I’ve experienced situations where we hired people from outside the industry who turned out to be some of the best staff we’ve ever had. So, for me, I look for social skills, attitude, and someone who just understands hospitality and service at their core, who has a knack for keeping the conversation going, and who doesn’t see the job as a just a nine-to-five. Because in hospitality, it is always a little bit more than just nine-to-five.”
Reflecting on his own journey through the industry, Philip tells us, “Bartending and hospitality have made me a more complete human being and a better person because you have to deal with different people every single day. You never know what kind of person, from what background, is going to step foot into your bar.” He describes the role of a bartender as not just someone who makes drinks for people, but a partner in communication. Sometimes he needs to be the one leading the dialogue, but at other times, he is just listening and understanding without judgment and interjection. In a day and age of extremely polarised ideologies and great misunderstanding, we could perhaps all benefit from practicing the discipline of a bartender.
Finally, when asked about Bangkok as an international drinking destination, Philip notes that while Thailand has always had a reputation for great entertainment and hospitality, there has been exceptional growth within the local bar industry in the last two years, making it one of Asia’s most promising. “I think what really stands out about Bangkok’s bar scene is the quality we’re seeing post-pandemic—more thought-through concepts, higher quality, better consistency, more focus on the basics and also on customer service. It’s also nice to see a lot of bartender-owned bars and businesses as well as more glamorous hotel bars that are raising the standard. Seeing what has been accomplished just in the last two years only makes someone like me very excited for what’s to come next.”
Get notified about all our bite-sized food and drink content.
Get notified about all our bite-sized food and drink content.