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Meet Bartender Jhun

We had stopped by for a couple of drinks -- a mojito for me, a margarita for Marchie -- before we called it a night, but we ended up hanging out at the bar, chatting up the bartender. What started out as a request for a shorter straw soon became a telling of his life story. He was happy to serve it to us, too, in between his bartending tasks. He wasn't actually that busy anymore; it was around 11 p.m. on a Saturday night in Taguig City, where curfew closes establishments at 2 a.m., and the bar was already close to empty.

The first thing Jhun confessed was that he used to have an office job: He worked as a collector for Vintage Sports when it still owned the rights to broadcast PBA games. He would collect hundreds of thousands of pesos a week for the company, he said, and he was handling the smallest accounts.

Jhun told us that he was a hard worker, but more than that, he was an eager learner. Once, he broke a computer keyboard in his desire to learn how to use the damn machine -- and it wasn't out of frustration too; he was seriously practicing.

When Vintage Sports aired its last PBA game in 1999, Jhun found himself switching careers: He became personal butler to his boss. He liked that it was something new, and he was really up to the challenge. He learned what he could on the job; he taught himself the art of butlering as he served meals and drinks in his boss' steady stream of meetings.

When his boss decided to open a bar and restaurant in Greenbelt 2, Makati, Jhun was assigned there to be his boss' "eyes and ears." He started out as server and, fascinated by the art of mixing drinks, soon asked to be trained as bartender. Happily, his boss approved his request.

This career shift put him under the mentoring of an expert bartender, he said, one who had had real training, had worked all over the world, and had tended bar for international personalities. One of the names Jhun mentioned was Arnold Schwarzenegger, in perhaps, his Planet Hollywood.

And we come to the part of the story that I like best.

Jhun, ever the eager learner, wasn't content with just learning on the job. He brought home empty bottles to familiarize himself with all the alcohol beverages that would go into the drinks. He put them on a shelf and practiced grabbing bottles and pretend-cocktail mixing. He would also rotate several bottles on top of his television so he would have them in sight when watching TV and commit them to memory.

Black Tasha
Complimentary shots of Black Tasha

A few months and a TESDA course later, Jhun was already quite adept at mixing drinks. He was already experimenting, and, if I remember the story correctly, he already had a couple of originals to his name. He shared the recipes and some related anecdotes with us, but I wasn't really taking down notes.
Jhun's mentor soon moved to another bar called Brava, in Serendra. A few months later, he asked Jhun to join him and, after much consideration and partly out of gratitude and largely because he wanted to learn more, Jhun did.

Brava had a more extensive bar list, so Jhun was soon adding more drinks to his repertoire. The Italian bar and restaurant was eventually sold to the owner of the bar that took over, the American bar and restaurant Murray & D'Vine. Jhun was among the staff members that were retained.

He is head bartender there now, and he can mix a mean mojito.

Jhun told us that bartending was his passion. He said he doesn't feel right when he's away for two days from behind the bar. He spoke with a father's pride when he talked about concocting his own cocktails.

He said he used to be very quiet, but he also taught himself the arts of socializing and conversation, and now chatting with strangers comes easily.

I asked Jhun if he ever wanted to open his own bar, and he said that he was more into mobile bars. He has done a couple of gigs with his son, who is now 18 and also getting into bartending. He's done bridal showers and private parties. He said he can do costing, he can source drinks, and he can adjust to clients' budgets. If you want to make sure everyone's drunk at the end of the party, he can factor that in too.

In case we ever needed a mobile bar, Marchie and I asked for his card.

Jhun handed each of us a business card, holding the card with both hands. I saw his hands were clean and manicured; his fingernails were shiny with clear polish. I didn't need to be told, but I liked that the man who made my mojito explained it to me: "A bartender must keep his hands clean," he said, "since we touch many of the ingredients with our fingers."

We left Jhun a generous tip, but I fear I got more from him than he did from us. It's not every day that I get to meet someone completely in touch with his passion, who worked hard to create the life he wanted for himself. He reminded me of what I had set out to do for myself when I moved to UP to take up creative writing.

I left that bar in good spirits. And it wasn't just the drinks.

***

Here's a video of Jhun mixing a mojito for me:

 

If you need a mobile bar this Holiday season, you might want to consider this guy. I have his number!

Or you could always drop by Murray's & D'Vine and chat with him.

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