December 2, 2019

I arrive at Jigger & Pony on a Wednesday afternoon a few hours before they open to meet award-winning bar manager Jerrold Khoo. In October this year, Jigger & Pony came in at number 29 at The World’s 50 Best Bars 2019 list, finally cementing their status as a force to be reckoned with in the cocktail industry. Although this ascend to fame has taken 7 years, the bar is widely known to many for its impeccable hospitality, outstanding service, and inventive cocktails.

In many ways, Jerrold’s career also mirrors the bar’s journey to success. He joined Jigger & Pony as a bartender a year after they opened, and has since worked his way up to lead the team and run operations. Fresh off their recent induction into The World’s 50 Best Bars, the man of the hour sits down to chat with us about the challenges of being in the service line, the importance of treating customers with empathy, and how alcohol plays a huge part in work and social life. 

High Net Worth: Being in the service industry can sometimes get very draining, especially for introverted people, because you put the customer first. What do you to do take care of yourself and refill your energy reserves?

Jerrold Khoo: I enjoy working in a team and that helps a lot. We can either make or break somebody’s night. It’s quite satisfying to see someone enjoying something that you’ve made. I used to play in a band, and relish the energy of being on stage. I feel like it’s the same in a bar as well, and there’s this energy that we are giving out to people. I do feel like it’s soul-sapping at times, hence I try to balance between being on the floor and behind the bar. Some musicians die at an early age because they entertain millions of people on stage, which inevitably takes a toll on them—that is why the 27 Club exists.

Alcohol is known to bring out different sides of people and I’m sure you have seen many characters at Jigger & Pony. From your experiences, what have you learnt about human beings? 

We see the most erratic behaviour on Fridays. Perhaps people are excited because it’s the end of the workweek, or they are here to lash out a whole week of frustration. Alcohol can either elevate the worst emotions, or bring out the best in you, and it all depends on how you allow it to spill out of you.

Do you see a lot of solo patrons at the bar?

Yes, we have a lot of solo drinkers.

Do they usually prefer to be left alone?

Some do, but one of my strengths is to engage them. If I’m behind the bar and I notice a customer drinking alone, I try to give them more attention. You just have to find the right approach. Our philosophy is such that when you come to Jigger & Pony, we are already your friends.

How does one have a good time in a bar?

I don’t need to go to a bar that has outstanding drinks. If the drinks are all right and the bartenders are really nice, I can have a good night. I would rather have a beer or a simple drink served by a respectful bartender, than a bar known for excellent drinks but treats everybody like shit. That’s a reason why nobody talks about how good the bar is at a club. The bartender is always very angry. Why can’t we have a club where the bartender is also happy and chatty?

What do your after-hours look like?

Sometimes we stay at the bar after work with colleagues or have supper together, and that constitutes a good night for me too.

How do you explain the state of tipsiness to somebody who hasn’t had a drop of alcohol in their life?

It’s quite liberating to be tipsy and it makes you more confident. It can also be a relaxing agent that slows you down, then builds you up faster and faster like a rollercoaster. Alcohol also makes people more creative by stimulating their senses to a certain point, before it all goes downhill. I think it also helps to have company—when you have five drunk people together, the things that they can come up with can be quite impressive.

If you were to create a cocktail based on happiness, what would it taste like?

If I were to create a happiness drink for you based on your preferences, I will make you a drink called the Brown Derby. It’s whisky, grapefruit juice and honey—delightful just like a rainbow. Each sip is also bright, flavourful and provides a pleasant drinking experience. A happiness drink should not have any bitter components.

Like a tropical drink?

Not to that extent. Tropical drinks can be overly sweet and life needs to be balanced with a bit sourness as well.

If somebody asks you for a drink to knock them out, what would you serve them?

I can serve you a stiff drink, but I also want to make sure that you enjoy it. Rather than just making people drunk, I try to understand their situation and what’s going on. Sometimes we feel better after we talk about our feelings and problems, and the need to get hammered goes away. I can still make you drunk if you want to, but in a happy way, so that you will have a better time.

I return to Jigger & Pony again on a Friday night, this time as a solo patron. Instantly, I’m greeted by an enthusiastic front of house, and promptly ushered to a seat at the bar counter. Jerrold is away and I dread the prospect of having to make small talk with complete strangers. Despite his absence, I settle in pretty quickly thanks to the welcoming bartenders.

My night starts off with a Whisky Highball—a crisp, effervescent, and refreshing taste perfect for the Singaporean climate. While it may seem like a simple drink, Jigger and Pony’s rendition of the classic is the perfect marriage between Suntory Chita Whisky and carbonated Hokkaido “super soft water” left for at least three days to achieve a smooth-like texture.

The Brown Derby, an off-menu item, isn’t how I imagined happiness to taste like, but it does evoke a sensation of a swirl of colours dancing through the sky. So far, my two whiskey-based drinks are hitting all the right notes. Madame President, a hybrid between the Negroni and Martini, is a transformative drink that takes you from a dark thorny forest to a summery garden. Traditionally, Campari is used as a bitter element in a classic Negroni, but in this instance, the Campari is turned into a lollipop—each swirl lending a touch of sweetness in an unexpected way.

Throughout my visit, employees work in unison and walk around with a constant smile on their faces like they are one big family. Everything about the place is congenial and it doesn’t take long before Jigger & Pony feels like your second home. In an industry where manpower is scarce and turnover rates are high, Jigger & Pony has somehow managed to elevate the service experience by attracting the right talent and carving out opportunities for career growth. If you haven’t figured it out by now, their reputation and success stem from not just their cocktails alone, but in the way they treat you.

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