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#372

YOU GOTTA WORK

09 Jun 2016 By

The legendary Employees Only bar from New York City is about to bring something special to the scene in Singapore when it opens in mid June. We waded through the construction space – got a special preview – and spoke to them about their wicked plans.

Igor Hadzismajlovic had me pegged from the first minute. I was a little early to the meeting, the PRs hadn’t shown up yet, and so there I was at Club Street, trying to figure who I was s’posed to meet. I stared into my phone to call, and omeone taps me on the shoulder, big burly guy, wearing shorts and an uncle tank top. “Hey, you’re that journalist.”

I nodded hello.

“I can smell you journalists a mile off, haha, I’m Igor.”

Igor is one of the original founders of Employees Only, what you don’t know about this famed New York bar could fill another story, so there’s no need to list their awards and accolades here (try this Google thing we’ve heard about), Employees Only is best experienced as a space, as a performance, and as a personification. When we got wind that the bar was coming to Singapore, it was like comic fans getting hold of a leaked Deadpool trailer. Hence the preview with Parched, and a chance to speak to them before the opening in mid June.

New York

For the first time in its 12-year existence, Employees Only will be opened outside NYC.

With Igor was Steve Schneider, the principal bartender of (henceforth known as) EO, both are partners in the Singapore venture. What you don’t know about Schneider (ex-US Marines, podcaster, pro wrestling fan and Fastest Bartender in the World©) could fill another story. But we had a conversation to get to.

Igor and Steve are the two main guys behind the Sg bar, which will similarly evoke an ambiance of fun and frivolity reminiscent of the 1920’s and 30’s era through its buzzy speakeasy atmosphere, retro décor, soft sepia lighting and evocative candlelight. There is also the restaurant offering modern American fare by executive chef/partner Julia Jaksic, and the omnipresent fortune teller at entrance. 

DFL: What’s with the name?

IH: I started the bar 15 years ago with four partners and we were all bartenders, we worked it ourselves every night, behind the bar, on the floor, dishwashing, whatever it took, there were no ‘owners’ owners, everybody was an employee–

SS: If you want to take it a step further, there’s a psychic in the window, and behind her is a sign that says ‘Employees Only”. There’s a curtain, so you feel like you’re an employee when you’re in the place, there’s part of that speakeasy feel to it as well.

fortune teller oracle

Get lucky and go through the fortune teller before hitting the bar and restaurant.

How is the hiring coming along? (This was in late May)

Steve: We’re fully staffed up.

Igor: Everybody that we hire are all apprentices, and they’re all of different skill levels, but we chose them mainly based on their character, but they all start as bartender apprentices, and as time progresses we’re gonna see how we’re gonna promote them, how quickly they learn and come up to speed.

SS: Everybody we hire starts at the same level, regardless of experience, it’s a fresh start for everybody.

If everybody has to start at the same level, is it because you have a different way of working, a different method—

SS: That’s the way it is back where we come from. I was talking about the military, regardless of how fast or how strong or how good you are, everyone starts at the same level, everyone has to earn it. We all did it, we’ve all cut our teeth, it’s a proven system that we have, every single person that’s put on the white coat has started from the same level.

IH: Everybody will get the same chance, some people pick it up right away, some a little longer, as long a their heart is in the right place.

SS: There’s a lot of great talent out there, here in Singapore.

Is the EO tattoo mandatory? (Staff and even regular customers have them).

IH: Never, never [laughs]. It’s the opposite actually, quite a few times I’ve tried to dissuade people from getting it.

SS: I’m not sure you’re gonna last here for that long!

IH: I tell them ‘let’s push it back, wait another year, see how it works out’.

Looks-wise you’re replicating the New York style, with the Art Deco theme. What about some of the traditions you have there, like…the chicken soup?

IH: Yes! Half an hour before closing, chicken soup!

SS: Also, along with our main hitting cocktails, the food as well, chef Julia, she’s bringing steak tartar and a few other things we’re known for. I’ve got a bunch of cocktails from New York City* I’m bringing over as well, they’re kinda like EO classics, staples there, they kinda define our style of drink making. I’m also having a couple of drinks that I take from local ingredients, embracing the ingredients here, all this fresh fruit–

IH: –the core of the food menu is going to be replicated here.

SS: Tradition wise, also our style of making drinks, our fast-paced, sorta dancing behind the bar almost. There’re only two stations, three people behind the bar, so it’s fun to watch.

Apparently you guys can churn out five drinks in two minutes – is that true?

SS: It sure is! One cocktail for every minute, more or less.

IH: You do the math.

SS: Apparently, it works out to… one cocktail every one minute and five seconds. And we’re talking full-on cocktails, not highballs, beer, wine, serving food, getting credit cards, getting phone numbers, giving phone numbers, not per bartender, but per bar staff, every one minute you can hear that percussion, chkkkssss chkkksss [mimes shaking a cocktail]. When I first worked in EO, the lighting was perfect, and the music was great, the people were chatting, there’s a lively energy in the room. And the sound of the drinks being made, boom, it just brought the whole thing together, you know. It was great background noise. That’s what’s gonna happen here as well, you walk through the screen, see three people behind the bar, loving what they do, making drinks, engaging people.

Employees Only Igor Hadzismajlovic, Steve Scheider

Igor Hadzismajlovic (left) and Steve Schneider will both be behind the bar, like, literally working it.

When did you get the plans to expand?

IH: I always wanted to expand, but I wasn’t so set of Singapore, I was always thinking of London, but sometimes life takes you… my friend Joshua (schwatz, also an EO partner)helped me a lot, and he has networks here, and so I took the easy path. It’s a beautiful city, it’s English-speaking which is good for our business, it’s affluent, and there’s a budding cocktail scene here – and I can play beach volleyball here year-round, I can’t do that in London!

So is there a person you haven’t drank with, but would like to?

SS: Yourself, my friend. [The diplomatic answer, I had to say…]

DFL: Well, that’s opening night.

IH: For me it’s Tom Waits, but he stopped drinking years ago, so it doesn’t matter.

SS: Probably Stone Cold Steve Austin. I’m a big professional wrestling fan.

Owen Gibler (the other bartender who had been silent all this time, finally spoke up): I’d say Dwayne Johnson (The Rock), but my wife would probably leave me.

What cocktail would you serve someone with a broken heart?

SS: That all depends you know, I would serve them the Lazy Lover. Anything to make light of the situation.

IH: I think the Lazy Lover is the go-to answer on behalf of all of us. [It’s a popular EO creation made of cachaça, lime juice, Benedictine, jalapeña-infused green Chartreuse, tequila and agave nectar.]

SS: Basically what we’d do is make light of things, we wanna make people laugh and smile, it’s all about feeling people out. It’s like, broken heart, well, what’s your name? Let’s talk and get to know each other, let’s have a good time. We’re a bunch of goofy people at heart.

5 things about Employees Only you should know to win trivia night:

1) They have a book out, Speakeasy: The Employees Only Guide to Classic Cocktails Reimagined

2) Steve has a podcast where he speaks to industry peeps, discusses cocktails, booze and other BS: “It’s called The Steve Schneider Show, I couldn’t think of another name. I’m also writing a book but it’s long ways away.”

3) Igor’s mentor is Joshua Schwartz, who taught him bartending 20 years ago in Pravda, NYC. Joshua and his wife Sarissa helped to open/operate Pangaea in Singapore six years ago. They’re all partners in EO here.

4) At the bar you can also order ‘The Employees Only Staff Meal’, a Singaporean special they adapted from the staff’s family meal.

5) Steve Schneider is featured in the documentary Hey Bartender

 

*Cocktails

Ready Fire Aim: Mezcal, Fresh Lime Juice & House-made Honey-Pineapple Syrup with dashes of Hellfire Bitters
EO’s Manhattan: Rye Whiskey and Italian Vermouth stirred with Orange Curaçao and dashes of Angostura Bitters.  Served up with a zest of Lemon.
EO Gimlet: Perry’s Tot Navy Strength Gin shaken with EO Lime Cordial

Employees Only Singapore, 112 Amoy Street, Sunday – Thursday: 5 pm to 2 am; Friday – Saturday: 5pm to 3 am. Tel: 6221-7357. Follow on Facebook

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