Speaking with David Ong, co-owner of The Curator Coffee and Cocktails, will make one re-examine the meaning of “passion.” When asked about a drink, he goes into what liqueur is in it, along with a handful of other ingredients, in an attempt to show just how special it is. Then he goes further back, excitedly talking about bourbon, for example, and how it’s actually a type of whiskey made of 51% corn. Ong, it seems, is the type of person who relishes a good backstory.
This year, The Curator, a small hole-in-the-wall establishment, ranked 16th on The World’s 50 Best Bars’ regional list for Asia. It’s a list put together by “The Academy,” 150 bartenders, bar operators, and journalists active in the industry, and their inclusion is a feat for a place that only officially opened in December 2013. “It’s totally subjective, but of course it’s a nice recognition,” he says. “It’s flattering.”
Ong recalls how he started up The Curator with co-owner Jericson Co. “We wanted it to be a place for ourselves.” It is evident in the bar’s interiors. Tucked inside a nondescript building somewhere in Makati’s Legazpi Village, The Curator is surprisingly warm and cozy, especially for a place people flock to for premium handcrafted drinks. The place is small but not stifling, and though private enough, invites conversation.
“When I said a place for us, I meant for everyone. The set-up is pretty communal; it looks like a living room,” Ong says of the dark wood interiors and sparse shelving filled with a selection of jars and books, bathed in low light. “The bar itself is the highlight. It’s like the stage.”
“We’re not just making a good drink,” he says. “We’re making a good drink for the person.” Ong stresses individuality and subjectivity. Claiming that when asked about bestsellers, he and his staff say “everything,” because everyone has different tastes. Instead of providing a standard drink as an answer, for example, their baristas simply ask about one’s preference for flavors. “You need to treat the person in front of you as an individual,” Ong says. Although the place is known for its drinks, with something almost like reverence for their ingredients, their dedication to service and building relationships is impressive in its earnestness.
“Passion is a word that’s thrown around loosely,” he says. “But you have to put in the work. You have to be willing to learn.”
— Carina Santos
Photos by Sonny Thakur
The Curator is located inside Cyrano Wine Bar, 134 Legazpi St. corner C. Palanca St., Legazpi Village, Makati City.