SPIRIT OF ART: Bangkok's Tattooed Bartenders

Bartenders and tattoos are a harmonious match, this enduring relationship is explored by The Sprit of Art by Giffard with Bangkok’s Tattooed Bartenders.

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December 06, 2017
Entering a cocktail bar and perching yourself on the stool, you watch the bartender as he makes magic, creating from the array of spirit and liqueur bottles in front of him a concoction for you, one that will beckon you back again and again. You notice that as he is shaking the cocktail shaker beautiful lines and shades of colour move as he moves, they are his tattoos.
The Spirit of Art by Giffard explores the world of bartenders and tattoos, the art of the tattoo a unique and global culture that is much loved amongst bartenders, the gatekeepers to the wonderful world of cocktails.  This love affair between bartenders and their tattoos is what Giffard recognised and with its interest in connecting with the arts, The Spirit of Art was born. Giffard, the artisanal spirits and syrups purveyor from Angers, in France was founded one hot steamy summer in 1885 when pharmacist Emile Giffard, who was not only inventive but also a gourmet concocted a clear and refined white mint liqueur as a relief against the heat wave. He named it the Menthe Pastille and it was met with success, five generations later his great great great grandchildren continue to produce mint and elixirs in a variety of flavours. The Sprit of Art was first launched in 2015 in the UK and has been to Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. Recognising that tattoos are an art form in themselves, Spirit of Art has become a platform for expression for bartenders to show their tattoos and their cocktails using Giffard’s syrups and liqueurs.  When you ask a bartender about their tattoos a story will come with it and when you ask them about an inspiration for a new drink that they made too, that will be a story. Spirit of Art tells these stories.
The Spirit of Art comes to Bangkok this winter with 11 bartenders from the cities' most renowned cocktail bars presenting their tattoos and their signature cocktails. It is worth noting here that the art of the tattoo and Bangkok holds a unique place, for Thailand is the home of the Sak Yant, the spiritual tattoos given by monks from the temples as a form of protection. A tradition that has long been in the kingdom for it is the fighters and warriors that require protection, these spiritual and sacred tattoos have a function but are also personalised for each person. It protects, it enhances and it is totally unique as well as being permanent. The Sak Yant and the tattoo forms part of one’s personal story and passions, for Spirt of Art, these passions are unveiled through ink but also the cocktails that each bartender makes; both tattoos and cocktails a refection their own personal expression, their stories and their passions.
Parom Malakul of Backstage Bar

Bangkok today has some of the best cocktail bars in the region and the personalities behind the bar to make this an enduring fact. In Thonglor there are bars aplenty but a couple stand out for their cocktails. Backstage Bar, a bar that is much loved by the industry, i.e the after hour drinking hole for chefs has Parom Malakul behind the bar, the half Thai German bartender has a hawk tattoo. “My mom told me that it’s better to do a tattoo that means something for you, especially that you will have it forever. So I decided to do a hawk, which is an emblem of an empire in Germany. As to what the tattoos mean for him and his bartending? “For me to have tattoos is a way of telling who you are, same for the drinks. You want to show what style of drinks and garnish you like.” Parom prefers to make sweet and sour cocktails at the bar but will take his own drinks on the rocks.

Neurdung Srisang of Rabbit Hole

A few sois away from Backstage is the Rabbit Hole, another firm favourite and their bartenders Chacha Suwincha Singsuwan and Neurdung Srisang need no introduction. Rabbit Hole, like the hole that Alice fell down after following the White Rabbit is full of mysteries and their bartenders’ preference for cocktails and their tattoos would speak as much of this. Chacha with her cats and her brushstrokes on her back, these are some of the things she likes. And for her she thinks that the tattoo and cocktails can tell you about the style you have. “When you look at someone’s tattoos you can almost guess what kind of drink that person would like” So what of Chacha? “People think I’m quite hard and tough. But I don’t think so! Haha! I like to drink spirit forward, and I want people to try. Spirit forward cocktails that contain spirits and modifier, some syrups and bitters. But no juice! If you wanna mix you can use lemon oil or orange oil.” Her colleague behind the bar is also tattooed, Nernung’s explains his tattoo, “If you are a bartender, or a drinker, you will probably recognize this tattoo motif. The inspiration is from a spirit brand whose signature is a moose with a crucifix. The moose is a signature of leadership, and this spirit brand was the first spirit I could drink. That’s why I like it!”

Chacha Suwicha Singsuwan of Rabbit Hole
Carson Quinn of Iron Balls

In the same hood is Iron Balls, just off Ekamai a cocktail lover’s heaven headed up by Carson Quinn. Carson gave himself his first tattoo at 16. Today his tattoos record the places he has been, his memories and they are all significant in one way or another. He traces the tattooed bartender phenomenon to tattoos being in the provenance of chefs, but then it was the bartenders that refined it. And ultimately, what it does is a form of self expression, and freedom, in the past, you couldn’t be tatted up necessarily in the service industry but today as bartender he can show his tattoos with pride as a bartender.

Further down Sukhumvit is Highball with Benjawan Khampruangdach behind the bar, the relationship between tattoos and bartending is very simple for her, tattooing and bartending are almost same, she likes art, and both tattoos and bartending would be art to her.  At Sole Rouge, in Sukhumvit 11, Fon Kongjun likens tattoos to storytelling “When you serve cocktails, you need to explain the concept or story of the cocktail.

Where the inspiration is from and why you did it like that.  Same for the tattoos, why I got this one or this one. It’s a storytelling for the guests.”  At Havana Social, Athithaya Mingmanee sees a similarity between the tattoo and the cocktails, “You have to really think what you want to create right. For tattoos it will stay forever, and for cocktails you have to think what ingredients should go right together to get the best balance to reach that perfection.”

Wild and Co’s Watchara Pomee chooses tattoos for himself that are symbolic, he got his first star at at tattoo both at a spirit brand’s party and he liked heavy metal at time so the stars multiplied, “There are a group of seven stars called the Big Dipper, when wanderers are lost in the woods, they look to the sky for the Big Dipper, and when they find this group of stars, they will also find the North Star. Once you find the North Star you will no longer be lost as it will point to the true north. So the meaning for me of these seven stars is that you will never be lost in your life.”
Benjawan Kampruangdach of Highball, Fon Kongjun at Sole Rouge, and Athithaya Mingmanee at Havana Social
Watchara Pomee at Wild and Co.
Across town in Charoenkrung is Tropic City, in this instance how a tattoo relates to the style of drinks a bartender makes and his overall state of being could not be any more clear than with Sebastian de la Cruz. The bar serves tropical drinks, Sebastian has many tattoos, one is of Captain Haddock (pictured below) and another is of a pineapple, "The pineapple represents hospitality, and I’m in the business of hospitality. So it seems natural to do a pineapple. I like the look of a pineapple as well.” As for his next tattoo? “I want to do my personal hashtag, which is: ”Everyday is a pinacolada day”. And also I have a plan to do a panda with a Hawaiian shirt drinking a tiki drink.  Apparently my spirit animal is a panda as well.” No suprise perhaps that Sebastian likes to make Pina Colada, Pisco Sour and Mai Tai.  Krit Pragobdee also of the bar has a bird which represents freedom, what is more free than sitting on the beach and having a fruit drink whilst the sun sets, he also prefers to make fruity drinks.
Sebastian de la Cruz and Krit Pragobdee of Tropic City
Pinsuda Prongpom of Bamboo Bar

Finally on the bank of the Chao Phraya the grand dame of cocktail bars, the Bamboo Bar, Pinsuda Prongpom, the beautiful female bartender of the bar has tattoos of a woman’s face, a butterfly and flowers. “The flowers and the butterfly are for the night. The woman is me, because I’m working during night time now for about three years.”  Her favorite cocktail is the Negroni. Though the flowers might not be too far off from the concoctions she creates for The Bamboo Bar as they may often be garnished with flowers.

Once you understand that there is a link between these two arts, bartending and tattooing you can actually start to see how the ink gives you an insight as to what drink your bartender will make you. What better than to visit all the nine bars here in Bangkok to give it a try and see if the formula works.

The Spirit of the Art and Bangkok Tattooed Bartenders Series takes place from December 6 through to December 23rd where you can get special cocktails at the nine bars across town from their tattooed bartenders made with their favorite Giffard spirits and liqueurs.  See map below for locations of the bars.

For more information please visit facebook/giffardasia

And follow IG: @giffardasia and FB for a daily drop of exclusive videos of the 11 bartenders behind their bars, doing what they do best. They will share with us the art of creating cocktails together with the art of tatoos, reflecting their personal expression, stories and passion on their skin.
Find the Bangkok Tattooed bartenders for more stories behind their bars here:

1. Backstage Bar with Parom Malakul
2. Bamboo Bar with Pinsuda Pongrom
3. Havana Social with Athitaya Mingmanee
4. Highball with Benjawan Khampruangdach
5. Iron Balls with Carson Quinn
6. Rabbit Hole with Chacha Suwinda and Neurdung Srisang
7. Sole Rouge with Fon Kongjun
8. Tropic City with Krit Pragobdee and Sebastien De La Cruz
9. Wild & Co. with Watchara Pomnee