From New York City to Amoy Street, one of the world's top bars is opening in Singapore, and we managed to get a little one-on-one with its key players
Five minutes into a conversation with Igor Hadzismajlovic, Steve Schneider and Julia Jaksic and it’s clear that the trio are very much a representation of what Employees Only is: Warm, approachable and full of good humour. Employees Only’s original New York City branch was recently voted 4th best bar in the world. And now, the team has their eyes set on Singapore for the establishment’s first foray out of New York City. We were lucky enough to grab a couple of beers with the team and find out just how this New York institution plans to shake up Singapore’s cocktail scene.
So what can we expect from the Employees Only’s first venture outside New York?
Igor (Partner): We’re trying to recreate what we have in New York. It’s very low-key, professional and super-friendly, we try and create a place that we ourselves would go to after work. There’s no velvet rope outside; it opens late; it serves great food, but it’s not diner food either. It’s also somewhere where you can have a great cocktail without being too stuffy about it. We’re trying to have all these elements in one simple space.
The three of you have made the move here to helm Employees Only in Singapore. Is this a permanent arrangement?
Steve (Partner and Principal Bartender/Bar Manager): At least for a year, but this is my baby, so however long it takes really. My role here would be ‘drill sergeant’ for the bar staff and the apprentices. My vision is to give apprentices a platform to build a career – that’s what I’m aiming for. We’re structured, so everyone starts on the same level and there’s always a chance to rise in the ranks. I’m an example of that; I started as an apprentice here. So how long am I going to be here? Until I’m done with the job!
So what’s the team dynamic like, and how do you guys deal with disagreements?
I: We work together as a team, but everybody has their own compartments. I would never go to Julia and tell her what to put on the menu; she pretty much has free reign as far as the kitchen goes. There’s always an open discussion though, and everyone comes with an open mind. Steve has free reign behind the bar. I have the freedom to do whatever I want with the Facebook page!
S: We don’t have that many disagreements. We’ve been working together for so long. We know what we want and we know what each other can do.
I: We’re like a couple, that is, at the Netflix-on-the-couch stage. We don’t wanna go out anymore, and there isn’t much bickering. No sex either.
Julia, you’re famous for your bone marrow poppers. Will we be seeing that on the menu?
Julia (Executive Head Chef): We will definitely be featuring Employees Only classics. It’s funny, we sometimes try to change the menu, and customers will come into the kitchen and ask for their favourite dishes to be put back on!
Can we look forward to any new dishes?
J: I’m excited about using regional ingredients in Employees Only-style dishes. One of our chefs is Mexican, so he’ll also be doing some Mexican dishes on our menu. We also have a nightly special, the staff meal. This is a daily Singaporean meal, cooked by the staff, for the staff – which we will make available to our customers too, at a special price
Of course, we’re thrilled about the drinks too. What can we expect from the bar, Steve?
S: I don’t want to put too many drinks on the menu because I want it to be manageable and well-balanced. The menu is split up into aperitifs, cocktails and long drinks, then we have fancy cocktails that require more prep time and utilise homemade or rare ingredients. Each drink has its own unique personality, much like the people we’re going to be serving. I’m also going to be using regional ingredients like pineapple, ginger, pandan, kaffir lime, coconut, and five spice. There’s gonna be a drink for everybody.
We get that hospitality and service is another aspect you’re very focused on, especially when it comes to getting to know your guests…
S: Yes! The more I get to talk to you, the more I can figure out what you like to drink. I want to know exactly what you like, so I know how to take care of you.
J: Another thing we offer here, which is part of who we are, is at the end of the night, whoever makes it through, we do chicken soup. It’s sort of a farewell token or a get-home-safe thing, and hopefully our guests wake up with less of a hangover. That’s something we’ve always done in New York.
So how would you sum up your style of food and drink?
S: Our style of drink-making is very fast-paced, almost dancing behind the bar. That kind of practice and art has been lost, but that’s our style and it’s definitely unique. I’m using all my senses to make the drinks.
I: Some people might be underwhelmed with the product because we don’t go crazy with our drinks. Our garnish game is what some people would consider lame – it’s very basic, it’s standard, it’s classic, it’s simple. It’s good stuff made quickly.
J: That’s one of our philosophies across the board, and in our food as well. It’s not modern. We do simple things that make sense but are well done. The show comes through not just in the product, but through the team and hospitality we provide. It’s a whole connection.
What has been your proudest moment prior to starting Employees Only in Singapore?
I: For me, probably winning best bar in the world in 2011.
S: For me, worst bar name in 2005. We were given that award when we opened.
Employees Only, 112 Amoy Street, Singapore 069932. Opens in June (date TBA).