Despite facing prejudice against his chosen profession as a young man, Agung Prabowo believes in the nobility of bartending.
As an 18-year-old busboy in Jakarta, Indonesia, he instinctively warmed to the human interaction he saw was involved not only in making and serving drinks, but in enhancing people’s happiness. As a result, he ignored the wishes of his family, quitting school to serve his time as a bar back, where he soaked up everything he could from the bartenders above him: the technical as well as the social skills, the importance of discipline and the time for individuality.
Twenty years later, Agung Prabowo is an icon in the cocktail world – literally the Industry Icon Award winner for 2020 as voted by the 230-strong Asia’s 50 Best Bars Academy. Having moved to Hong Kong in his mid-20s, Prabowo has worked across many of the city’s finest drinking establishments, including stints helming The Chinnery at Mandarin Oriental and the legendary Lobster Bar & Grill. In the process he has developed a reputation as something of a mind-reader; the sort of bartender who can judge a customer’s mood and suggest the perfect drink – whether to counteract their emotion or to amplify it. He is also adamant that customers can taste if a cocktail is not mixed with sufficient passion and heart.
Prabowo’s biggest leap came with the opening of his first independent bar, The Old Man, in 2017. In conjunction with business partners Roman Ghale and James Tamang, he spent months planning every detail of this tiny but perfectly executed drinking spot in HK’s SoHo. Its culinary-influenced cocktails are themed around spiritous literary legend Ernest Hemingway (the name of the bar is also taken from a Hemingway novel). Combined with highly personalised service and intimate atmosphere, the recipe means The Old Man has been a hit since its inception. In 2018 it debuted on Asia’s 50 Best Bars list as the Highest New Entry, just months after opening, and followed that with a No.10 spot on The World’s 50 Best Bars list later the same year.
In May 2019, The Old Man was named The Best Bar in Asia, sponsored by Perrier – the first Hong Kong bar to top the annual ranking. At the same time, Prabowo and his partners joined forces with Singapore bar veteran Andrew Yap to open a second iteration of The Old Man in Singapore. This venue, boasting a larger space but similar warmth, design and precisely engineered cocktails, has proved equally as popular as its elder sibling.
These are bars where the warmth of the hospitality shines through, the expertise of the bartenders is a given and the atmosphere is one that encourages interaction. Such qualities are a direct reflection of Agung Prabowo himself. ‘Every drink tells a story’ is one of his mottos; Prabowo’s tale is one of hard work, the humility to keep learning, personal charm and leadership by example. It makes him the first winner of the Industry Icon Award in Asia. Let the story continue…