Escrito por: Ian Cameron
Susie Wong works at Sandinista in Manchester and was a finalist in the 2011 CLASS Bartender of the Year competition. Having trained in fashion, she joined bartending relatively late, spent her formative years as a bartender at Gaucho in Manchester, and did a three-year stint at Walrus before finding herself at Sandinista.
I change when I go behind the bar, it's like a show. When I go to work it's a night out for me and a good appearance is important. I always think music, fashion and food and drink all link together at the end of the day - whether you're a bartender or a customer, you want to look nice when you go out. And there's something very sexy about being a bartender, specially the way you shake. I love this job - I worked til I was six-and-a-half months pregnant.
You can't come into work upset or in a bad mood - you are the entertainer for people's weekends. Sometimes you don't have the patience but you have to be nice - and there's nothing worse than a hungover bartender. A lot of people work in bars to show off and that annoys me. I hate it when you can see the bartender's face drop after you've ordered a drink. If you're not interested in doing the job go and clean toilets, it's easier. Bartending isn't a career for someone who has nothing else to do or who is not successful or just looking for something to fall back on. When I see part-time students working the bar it frustrates me - they don't know the space, or how to make a drink.
Starting at Gaucho was a great start. It was really well structured. There was just me and another girl, no bar-backs, and it was hard. We had to run upstairs when we ran out of anything. Wine deliveries, juice and 200 boxes of beer would arrive and we had to cart it all in on our own. And we had to crush our own ice with this thing from the 1970s. We had to manage two bars - a service bar and the main bar, and during shift every glass had to be polished. It was in at the deep end.
I am high maintenance. I take things too seriously sometimes. I can't help it. I've been taught very old fashioned ways. It's about appreciating nice things and getting that feel across, seeing the detail in everything. People say they love to watch me make a drink, and every drink I make it has to be spot on. Even at home I have three different teapots, particular glasses for drinking different things. I love Charles Schumann - I read American Bar in my spare time - he's very particular and knows what he wants, and he's not scared to tell people.
People underestimate me. When I went for my interview at Gaucho they said I'd be perfect as a hostess. They gave me three days in the bar, two days at the door. Luckily I learned the space quickly and in the end boosted profits behind the bar. I still find people look at me, kind of testing me. You can see them thinking: 'Chinese girl, I wonder if she can speak English', that I'm eye candy rather than a decent bartender. But actually there was only one time when I couldn't take it, when I was making 13 Mojitos for a party and the customers made lewd comments while I was muddling. I got upset but then I walked right back out there and finished the round.
My fiancé has been my biggest influence. He's given me the courage to do competitions and show what I can do. A lot of girls feel patronized by the boys, they think we haven't got the knowledge. I'm not a cocktail geek, but I've won competitions against 24 guys. I want to show that it's not about winning, it's about showing what you can do with ingredients. I love working with ingredients that you either love or hate - it's the little flavours I pick out and match with the base spirit. Up north people tend to forget about the garnish and presentation unless they're in a competition.
I would love to open my own bar. I'd open it with my fiancé. We're very similar and have that same retentive element to our personalities. I think Manchester needs a good gin bar. I can see it in my head - an old sweet shop window, stained glass, vintage glassware from flea markets, with nothing matching. We could run it just the way we want. Someone once said to me, one day all this hard work will pay off, and I think it is just about starting to.