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Five minutes with head bartender Michael Callahan

Having completed his bartender training in New York and San Francisco, Michael Callahan is now considered one of the leading bartenders in Asia, and one of the few from the USA. An expert in mixology and high-volume craft cocktail programmes, he is currently the head bartender of 28 Hong Kong Street in Singapore. Previously, Michael was the Vice President of the United States Bartenders’ Guild for Northern California and a lecturer on spirits and mixology at the City College of San Francisco.

How did you get started in the bartending industry?

In the late 90's, I was working as a barista in the World Trade Center. A regular guest was the manager of a restaurant in the complex. She liked my hospitality style and offered me my first job as a bartender. At my first shift, I made $60, four new friends from across the bar top and I laughed more than in any position I ever held. I never looked back.

What did you love about the bar cultre then... and what do you still love about it now?

Getting to converse with all sorts of interesting people and getting paid to do it.

Before coming to Singapore, what was your perception of its bar culture?

I did not have one. Of the many stories coming back from the East, few were from the perspective of an American bartender. Having always been interested in the road less travelled I decided to give it a shot when the opportunity arose. Now I'm hooked! I am glad I decided to challenge myself.

How would you describe the Singapore bar scene and drinking culture?

Dynamic. The scene is evolving and quickly catching up with the West. The guests are becoming more educated, bartenders' skills are getting better and better, F&B media is improving and a real community is developing around the craft of mixology.

Any advice you'd give to young Singaporeans looking for bartender training?

Don’t feel as if you have to learn and master every trend, old or new, all at once. Master the basics of spirits, cocktail history and technique, all while developing your own unique bartending style. Oh, and travel.

By Andy Gaunt for Drinks World Asia, a quarterly trade magazine for the Asian beverage industry.