Ulysse Jouanneaud, the founder of Buccaneers Rum and Cocktails in Poblacion, Makati City, has been living a different lifestyle since the quarantine began last March and bars were banned from opening. A night owl, he now wakes up eight o’clock in the morning, and sleeps before midnight—an unlikely routine for someone who was used to seeing daylight for just two hours.
Thankfully, Buccaneers continues to deliver bottled cocktails, which gives him an outlet for all his creative ideas. So while the world is changing around him, one thing remains the same: his passion for creating drinks that are inspired by his years of traveling the world, engaging with different kinds of people and, as he says with a short laugh, partying.
Ulysse grew up with parents whom he describes as bon vivant—people who embrace and seek the finer things in life. “My parents like living well,” he tells ANCX over a phone interview. “They love a good life, good food, good drinks.” The kind of happy, lively childhood is discernible in the 32-year-old Frenchman, who likes to laugh and blurt out a joke once in a while.
His maternal grandparents own a house in Sancerre, France, an area noted for its wine and goat cheese. He was three years old when he first tasted wine. “Oh, it was just a small sip,” he snickers. It’s natural then, that he is now doing what he does—and he’ll keep doing it until he could.
Since you came from a family who loves wine, then it must be that you’ve always wanted a job that had something to do with drinks?
No, not really. When I was younger, I wanted to be a lawyer because I wanted to know the secrets of the people. I was always watching movies, and the only one who knows the secrets are the lawyers. And after that, I wanted to be a psychologist because I wanted to read the minds of the people. I like to analyze people and listen to people.
Bartenders do that, too.
It’s pretty close. You actually need to be a listener—people tell you things. It is something very important. The first few years, you just listen and agree. Then I realized, people like to have your opinion, specially for their drinks. So you have to say your opinion and not just agree and nod.
Is that why you chose your job because you get to listen to people?
Yes, and well, my older brother is a chef. I always see him making food. So I started actually as a chef. I studied culinary. Making dishes is an art. I worked in the kitchen for four months. But, I realized, it was something I cannot do for a long time. I’m inside four walls. I wanted be on the floor. Basically, I started with learning about wines. In France, we have a culture of wine. But in wine, you don’t create something. I didn’t find myself comfortable. One day, I entered the bar, I saw the bartenders, talking with people, engaging with them, etc. So I fell in love with the job.
So how did you become a bartender?
I studied hospitality management in Paris, where I was born and raised. Then, we had option to study bartending. It was two years of study. The first year, you learn how to be a bartender, and the second year, you learn how to become a bar owner, do the costing and management part.
After Paris, I went to Australia where I worked there for two years. Then I moved to Abu Dhabi, UAE [United Arab Emirates] for four years. I worked for the Shangri-La. I was a bar supervisor. Then, after a year, I became the assistant bar manager, then after a year, the bar manager. After another year, I got promoted to beverage manager.
During my time there, I wanted to explore Southeast Asia. I was given the option to move to Taipei, Taiwan or Manila, Philippines. I asked around, and basically, I was advised to go to Manila. I moved to Shangri-La at the Fort, and I was there for six months prior to the opening.
What was your first impression of Manila?
The first thing I loved here are the people. They are very different. If you ask me now, “Do I go back to France?” I say, “No.” I would go for vacation, but not for work. People of France they are very stressed all the time, you know. Here, it’s the opposite. People are very engaging. I always say that Filipinos know the true meaning of hospitality.
What about the bar scene?
What I like about Manila is that there’s a lot you can do. The bar scene was new when I arrived five years ago, so there was a lot to discover. There is a new bar every month. This is what I like, all this action. Abu Dhabi is different. The beverage culture is very different. It’s not prohibited but it’s not something that you can see often. It was very hard, and it was a challenge. The drinking culture here in the Philippines is very open. The people are very curious. They want to to know what’s going on, and they want to know the new things.
Do you have any good or crazy stories that you can tell us that happened while you were bartending?
Yeah! This story happened when I started bartending in Paris. I had a guest who sat down at the bar. He ordered a cognac, a very prestigious cognac, the Louis XIII. One shot of this is maybe around 10,000 pesos. It’s very expensive. He was a Russian guest. I was very afraid to make a mistake.
So we have a ritual when we serve this cognac. We serve it on a crystal tray, white gloves on, with a small kettle, a very elegant glass made of crystal, like an old Baccarat. It took five to six minutes to do it. And the guy just looked at me the entire time.
Finally, I served it. He said, “What are you doing? Give me Louis XIII with Coca-Cola.” For maybe two or three seconds, I was petrified. I thought, “Is that normal? What do I do? Louis XII with Coca-Cola?” So, I actually gave him another glass, and handed him a Coke on the side. He drank it in one shot, and he left.
I was shocked. It was very surprising.
If that were to happen now, would you advise him against it?
It really depends. We can read people based on what they order or the way they order. I say that within the first ten words that he or she speaks, you can already read the person. You know if they know their stuff, or if they are curious. You can analyze and identify what they want. I can help them. Sometimes, they say, “I want cocktail, but I don’t want sweet.” So I can help.
How did Buccaneers come about?
My partners, Dr. Wine's Vincent Landais, Apotheke Craft Spirits Co.'s Simon Côté, and I wanted to open a bar. I wanted to do something unique, one that is not yet here in Manila. First, I wanted to do a rum bar because there weren’t any rum bars here. Second, I think that the trend is going more towards the rum now. Rum and tequila are there on the list of trends. Vincent is the designer. He designed the ship. We wanted to do a pirate ship, because when you think of pirates, and the Caribbean, you think of rum.
Did that make you party harder?
I used to party a lot. Haha. When I arrived in the Philippines, I used to party pretty much almost every day. Now, maybe because I’m getting old, I party less. Also, I have to look after Buccaneers, and I don’t have much time. I actually just party at my bar. We close at four to five in the morning.
When was the last night you got drunk?
This morning. No, I’m joking. Party drunk, crazy drunk? This was when I was in Thailand, before the pandemic. I went to Thailand for a guest shift, a bar takeover. You know, when a chef cooks for a different restaurant for one night, we bartenders do that. We make drinks for a different bar for one night.
You must really miss those nights, and those days spent at your bar. What do you miss the most?
I miss my guests, my team. Sometimes, I go to Buccaneers, and I pretend that there are people around. I’m there behind the bar, and I close my eyes, and I imagine the bar is full now. And I open my eyes and that’s not happening. The first two months, it was actually okay, like I just thought it was a moment, a phase. It’s a bit harder now. I’m getting a bit impatient.
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Aw, man. That thing you do when you imagine that the bar is open makes me sad. Has this pandemic changed the way you view your career?
It is sad. But I try to see it more positively. As a bar owner, we often don’t have time for the small things on the side, the figures, the numbers, etc. Now, I found that I have more time for those. I spend more time for the training of the team. I prepare a lot of presentations. I find ways to develop them.
The bigger picture, I see what I can do for Buccaneers in my situation, or in the future. What’s the plan? Do we open more Buccaneers? Do we open something else? These are things you don’t normally have the time to think about when the bar is open. As a bartender, it’s time to train yourself, do research, increase your knowledge. During the pandemic, there were plenty master classes online.
What’s the first thing you would do when this crisis is all over?
I’m gonna sit down and drink one bottle of rum with my team—one bottle each. No, I’m joking. I’m not thinking about it. For sure, I will look after Buccaneers and make sure that our guests would be good. Before we open, I would like to invite our regulars for drinks, or to a party with free drinks. I’ll let you know.