Balancing The Bar

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THERE are bars, and there are bars.

And what mood your bar projects makes a huge difference to its success. This is something Indra Kantono, the newbie to the bar scene discovered quite quickly.

For all his initial success with Jigger & Pony, he ran into some issues which led him to realise that there are two key ingredients needed to create a good food and beverage (F&B) concept.

“Give the customer what they want. And give them something new and fresh.”

In finding the right balance between these, explains Kantono, Director of the Jigger & Pony family of cocktail bars, lies the recipe for creating a winning new concept.

This would have worked in most instances.

Dive Bar Takes A Dive

Schooled in the US, Kantono envisioned Flagship as a gritty dive bar, like those he remembers fondly from his university days, but with a premium whisky twist.

The quaint little spot, however, fell short of expectations, while neighbours Humpback and Gibson slowly started developing a following.

The dive bar concept did not resonate with the locals who had no frame of reference for such a place.

Kantono explains that his intention had been to strip away the pretention and bring more approachability and accessibility to whisky but this was lost in translation at Flagship. What Kantono ended up with was a place that was too foreign to the local customer.

“We botched the execution and customers didn’t quite understand what we were about.”

The most telling proof of the poor execution was clear to observe on any night at the bar.

New customers would come in, feel uncomfortable and almost immediately leave to go somewhere else.

It served as an eye-opener for Kantono.

“The entrance to the bar is tucked in behind two doors and a walk way — the person must have been pretty motivated to come here. But for them to then to turn around and leave, it must have left a terrible first impression!” he exclaims.

Reinventing The Brand

This lead Kantono to rethink his new bar and decide to re-launch it as the ‘Home Of The Old Fashioned’.

“With the repositioning, we are just trying to communicate our idea better.”

The popularity in the whiskey based old fashioned, as witnessed in Kantono’s other cocktail joints, and the fact that the consumer seems to be looking for cocktail bars gave him a perfect direction to pivot Flagship into. By offering four signature old-fashioned cocktails, each featuring a different kind of whisky, Flagship aims to deliver its expertise in whiskies — but now under the familiar guise of the cocktail.

The redesign of the space also saw him go back to basics of building a good bar. Paying particular attention to making a better first impression, improving the clarity of the concept, and creating a more comfortable and welcoming space seems to have had an effect on business. Kantono declares that there has been a 55% jump in sales in the quarter since the re-launch.

While only a small blip in his already impressive career, Kantono says that it has given him fresh perspective that he will carry forward to when he considers his future endeavours. “I am writing the things I have learned here into my commandments to remember when I create my next concept,” he jokes.

And in order to ensure future success, here is Kantono’s list of 5 things the customer wants in a watering hole:

1. A place that is conducive to socialising;
2. Somewhere they can have fun and celebrate;
3. A Good Product – one good enough to live up to the expectations of the premium local market;
4. High level of service and hospitality;
5. Innovation – something new and fresh.


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