Born in Harare, Zimbabwe and raised in The United Kingdom, Keith Motsi’s journey through Asia’s best bars has been one we’ve always been eager to hear about. We caught up with Keith to walk us through the ride.
Not long ago, in 2017, while Keith was in Bermuda for the America’s Cup, Asian spirits distribution and bar consultancy behemoth Proof & Company reached out with an offer Keith would not refuse. Proof & Company are not only known for the world class bars and concepts they build across Asia, but also for their keen ability to spot and attract the best talent from across the world and help them find home in Asia. It’s no surprise then, that they reached out to Keith for the upcoming bar at The Four Seasons in Beijing. For Keith, the decision was a no-brainer, being the kind of person who advocates living in the moment and seeing where it takes you.
It’s safe to say that ever since, there’s been no looking back.
From working at bars in the UK to being immersed into the heart of Asia, there were undoubtedly vast differences he observed across the two continents – from work culture to ethics and expectations. “Things are a bit more refined here, and there is still a certain glamour about the hotels etc. In the west, hotels have somewhat lost some of the charm and magic usually associated with such places. In terms of creativity I feel the bars and restaurants here have now overtaken the west in pushing the boundaries. Expectations are extremely high here, so you always have to be the trendsetter and not just be a follower.”
Asia is home to some of the world’s best bars that set the tone and benchmark for cocktail culture across the continent and beyond. But it hasn’t always been this way. The last decade has witnessed a renaissance in the world of cocktail bars and some people and bars have been instrumental in shaping the narrative across key locations. So what did things look like when Keith arrived in Beijing? “The bar scene in China was booming, things move and change so fast in China it was a bit of a shock to the system. Janes & Hooch were leading the charge when I arrived – what a bar that was. There was such great camaraderie between the F&B scene there. I had Rio Liu & Ethan with the support of Chris Lowder over in Beijing…without the support from those gents I’m certain I would not have survived those first 5 months in Beijing”, says Keith looking back fondly on his first few months in Beijing.
The Four Seasons group is known to have been the stomping ground of many great bartenders – some of who even catapulted to fame from behind the stick at these properties. So what is it that makes The Four Seasons such an enviable place to work for aspiring bartenders? “The best thing The Four Seasons gives us is the tools and empowerment to go out there & provide the best possible guest experiences. Especially here in Asia I think we have some of the most impressive Bar programmes anywhere in the world.”
Keith’s next move was an equally big one. When Lorenzo Antinori was moving to Hong Kong, Keith was offered his role at the Charles H Bar at The Four Seasons in Seoul. This was an exciting proposition as things in Seoul were beginning to pick up and Keith was all set to take his Beijing experience and make the most of the burgeoning drinking culture that was emerging in the vibrant city of Seoul. It’s worth mentioning that both Beijing and Seoul have very different drinking cultures and here’s why, “The way the cities are designed means the way one goes around makes a massive difference. Seoul is a sprawling megapolis & Beijing is a bit more of a compact megapolis. It is hard to hit a few different Bars/Clubs etc in the same night here in Seoul whereas in Beijing you could do a lot of Bar hopping” says Keith. How cities are built and structured have a huge role to play in how its people consume culture and nightlife, and this is likely one of the main factors that define the kind of bars that dominate certain cities and furthermore, certain districts in these cities.
At The Four Seasons in Seoul, the Charles H bar (named after the legendary Charles H. Baker) is somewhat of a pièce de résistance, occupying a cushy spot at #13 in Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2021 and unsurprisingly, Best Bar in Korea. Steeped in Victorian era mood, Charles H is a patchwork of prohibition era New York speakeasy vibes and rich and moody styles borrowed from Korea’s Imperial family. Keith’s team is one of varied experience and talents, but with a single minded goal of offering the best hospitality and experience on the continent from across the bar. When it comes to the concept of the bar, Keith and the team at Charles H are constantly inspired. “We have our identity and concept which we always look back to for inspiration. We try to blend the past, the present, and the future and are always looking beyond our borders to see what techniques/methods all our peers are using around the world. Charles H Baker Jr was inspired by the world from close & from far flung places.” The menu at Charles H takes Seoul through the new golden age of drinking, featuring classic cocktails as well as a selection of specials inspired by the travels of Charles H. using carefully selected high quality products and artisanal spirits.
The team at Charles H, under the guidance and mentorship of Keith Motsi, is known to be one of the finest in Asia. Keith brings a restrained yet amicable style of service to the table, providing an unmatched experience that keeps guests coming back. We can’t wait to visit Keith at the bar and sink into those velvet seats over the most beautiful drinks the city has to offer.
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