Más this year received a chart-topping 10 nominations in this year's 2015 Reader Bar and Club Awards, so we decided to sit down with the boys from the bar to find out the secret of their success. We learned how the Beijinger was in a small way responsible for this partnership and furthermore what makes their bar such a coveted hot spot. Whether they're the best bar in Beijing has yet to be determined, but they are no doubt a great place to find unique boozy delights and savory eats.
How did you all first get into making cocktails? When did it transform from a hobby to a potential business?
Ross Harris: I've liked cooking since before I can remember and had lots of dinner parties in Miami and Beijing. Cocktails seem like a segue, but it's basically flavor combinations, just like cooking.
Ariel Tudela: It switched from hobby to potential business when we hit a wall in our lives. Ross and I had been in Beijing about 5 years doing all kinds of teaching jobs, but we were ready for something different. At the same time, we were missing all kinds of things about the lives we left behind in Miami. We tried to make something in Beijing that would help us miss those things from home just a little bit less.
Ross Harris: We saw some acquaintances in El Nido on Palawan island that started this incredible French bistro. We were in awe and wanted something like this in Beijing, a great place to experiment. It has a low start up cost for a small business. So our hosting dinner parties became an actual business.
Chao Fang: I always like good cocktails, and I like making things. Whenever I try something I like, I always want to figure out how to make it myself. This might be because of the Chinese blood in me. So when Ross and Ariel brought up the idea to open a cocktail bar, I voted a huge "yes", and began looking for places almost right away.
How did you guys all meet?
Ross Harris: Ariel and I have been in a relationship for over ten years. Chao is our closest friend who we met in Beijing during a figure drawing class years ago.
Chao Fang: I quit my first job in Beijing as a education manager in an English training school, and was preparing to go and study film. After the exam I was looking for some interesting jobs, then I saw an ad on the Beijinger, which actually helped us to meet. The ad said some American painters were looking for figure drawing models. That's something I had never done before, so I decided to challenge myself and took the offer. Then we became very close friends.
Were there any other cocktail bars in the area the area that influenced you, or that you thought were doing something similar?
Chao Fang: I would say, the hutongs gave us our biggest inspiration. A tropical hutong bar, someone had to do it! Hutong bars already existed, like Amilal and Mao Mao Chong and we for sure learnt something from them.
Ross Harris: I really liked Mao Mao Chong, and at the time it was the de facto hard to find "secret" hutong bar. But I way more often did my drinking at Chinese restaurants and cheap dive bars.
Ariel Tudela: I think the other hutong bars that came before us, helped us see what we could become ... But with the addition of our own flair and styling.
Ross Harris: Like what Ariel said, about recreating an atmosphere from home. Like sitting on a screened in porch drinking a beer with lit candles everywhere, swatting away mosquitos.
At the time the only other bar in the area was Cafe De la Post. Why did you choose this location?
Ariel Tudela: I've always loved the quiet and intimate nature of the hutong bar well before Más ever became a creative outlet for us. We were lucky to find a space that matched our criteria. Small and hidden away, yet easily accessible from the subway and major streets.
Ross Harris: Exactly. We found it through an agency and loved it immediately. It had been a grimy 烤羊腿 (roast leg of lamb) joint before us and smelled like rendered fat. It was always a very personal bar because we were not business owners before this. It was about experimenting. We wanted to create a bar we'd love to frequent but did not exist in Beijing yet.
Do you think too often small bars expand too quickly and are initially too ambitious?
Ariel Tudela: I do. Bigger is not always better if you're not ready for that leap.
Chao Fang: I think you need to know "who you are" before you do more things with your business. If you want to do a beer garden, of course you need to find a garden to hold your bar. But if you want to make a fine cocktail bar, hiding in a comparably quiet hutong and expanding too much might not be a good idea. It also depends on what the purpose is of owning this business. If you just want to make money, of course making it bigger will give you more chances to do this. At a point we may expand too but we will do it more gradually, like in Chinese how we say "you can’t get fat by taking one huge bite." (一口吃不出个胖子) That means you have got to do things step by step.
What are some things you've learned about running a bar for three years that you can pass on to others just starting off?
Ariel Tudela: I'd say to be realistic with your limitations. Sometimes it's space, sometimes it's cash, or some other annoying thing. But there's a creative solution around those boundaries that can become your strong suit.
Ross Harris: Also to please, please, please, keep the beer cold, and be unique.
Chao Fang: Again, another Chinese saying, “you can’t eat hot doufu if you are in a haste.” ( 心急吃不了热豆腐) I have learnt to be more patient and understanding. Especially if you are not from China but want to open a business here, you have to really learn about the culture here and do your best to understand Chinese ways. Some of them can drive you crazy but that is also part of the fun and the experience. It is a little flattering that Más got so many nominations in this year's bar and club awards.
Would you consider that you guys are the best bar in Beijing or the most well-rounded?
Ross Harris: I'm really surprised and flattered that we were nominated for so many awards, but in essence we are a friendly, consistent neighborhood bar with food and drinks people really like. Also we aren't too expensive.
Ariel Tudela: I agree. I was very honored and surprised to get so many nominations. But I think we're a friendly neighborhood bar that keeps learning and growing as we continue our business. Every season we change and improve our cocktails and food to better serve customers. We hire the best, friendliest staff we can, and we always try and out do what we've done before.
Ross Harris: Consistency is hard in Beijing.
What's your current favorite drink on the menu?
Ross Harris: My favorite is probably the Jet Pilot. We are the only bar in the city to make this classic, nearly forgotten, surprisingly butch tiki drink. Also, summer is great for piña coladas.
Ariel Tudela: We have a new daiquiri called Turkish Delight and it's out of this world. I don't typically drink sweet drinks, this drink has just enough sweet, spicy and floral triggers to make you say "daaaaaamn."
Chao Fang: I love all the drinks, but since you asked for my favorite one I will say the Zombie. First of all it's a fantastic drink, every time we make it there is always something super fun and exciting happening, such a nice drink to order when you want to celebrate something. Also, it has fire on it.
Don't forget to vote in the Beijinger's 2015 Reader Bar and Club Awards for your favorite bars and clubs.
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