Jean Trinh, co-founder of acclaimed Alquimico in Cartagena, Colombia is this year’s winner of the 2022 Altos Bartender’s Bartender award. It’s the only award in the 50 Best Bars that is peer voted, and voted specifically by the bartenders from the bars on the year’s best 50 list. Each bartender was asked to name one person that made an impact in the global bar sector this year.
The Altos honor is the second of two special awards to be announced ahead of the live awards ceremony slated for Tuesday, October 4, in Barcelona, Spain. This is the first time the World’s 50 Best Bars awards will be held outside of London since its inception in 2009.
Trinh is French with a Vietnamese heritage. His parents were restaurateurs. But it was his love for Latin America and its people that led him to Colombia in 2013. The journey would take him to Cartagena de Indias, where the experience of Colombian hospitality would inspire him to open a pop-up bar just six months after. In 2016, he established Alquimico in a stunning three storey mansion in the port city.
We caught up with Jean to find out more about his bar and his inspiring passion for hospitality.
ANCX: Congratulations on winning the Altos Bartender’s Award. What does winning this award mean to you?
TRINH: When I was informed that I had been voted as winner of the Altos Bartenders’ Bartender Award by my peers, I thought of all the people who have worked with me and who have supported me during these years. I see this award as a reward for the work done by the entire team for years in Colombia. The award is a huge opportunity to share the amazing projects by people in our part of the world.
ANCX: What drew you to the mixology world?
My parents had restaurants for as long as I can remember. So I think my love for hospitality started when I was 5 years old. The passion for bars and cocktails began when I discovered the world of artisanal distillates, more precisely based on agave, when I lived in Mexico in the early 2000s.
ANCX: Can you tell us a bit more about your bar and its philosophy?
The love for Latin America and its people was what led me to start the adventure in Colombia. My intention was to ‘live and learn’ from my passion for hospitality, in a country with unlimited diversity and energy. When I opened Alquimico in 2016, the idea was to start working with and bring value to the locals, in a fun environment. Starting in a unit with 5 colleagues, we have been growing and today we are a team of almost 70 people and we serve in 3 units, every day of the year.
Being in the Colombian Caribbean, the vibe is positive and festive. Alquímico is a showcase to share how beautiful Cartagena and the country are from a gastronomic, social and human point of view.
ANCX: The pandemic had impacted the way bars operate. How did your bar cope with the lockdowns and restrictions?
In a complex context and with the impossibility of opening, the idea of the #FromTheBarToTheFarm project [came about], to create a farm from scratch together. In addition to taking care of [the staff’s] physical and mental health, it allowed us to continue creating and growing in a healthy environment. This seemingly crazy project has changed the way we think about and organize the bar. It was born from an emergency and has allowed us to value priorities – which is our community – in our lives.
ANCX: Any advice for the drinks industry with regards coping and sustaining a bar business post-Covid? What do you think needs to be done differently moving forward?
I would love to be able to think that by evaluating every detail of our work, we have the possibility of rethinking our practices, with the aim of significantly improving the quality of life of our people.
ANCX: What do you think are the qualities of a good bartender? And a good bar?
More than a good bartender, I think we need good human beings. Values like humility, curiosity, empathy, honesty, and a love for people are required [to be able] to work in our industry. I feel that the rest can be learned. A good bar is a place where when you enter you feel that the work team transmits these values. If the guest has a good time and feels well cared for, I think the possibility of seeing him the next day is very high!
ANCX: Do you have any advice for young bartenders entering the industry?
Being able to meet and listen to different people every day presents an unlimited source of information and learnings. They are opportunities for growth [and] they should take advantage of these and share them.
ANCX: What’s your favorite drink and how do you like to drink it?
I am a lover of agave and artisanal distillates. I love to sip on drinks with producers, to hear their valuable stories and share them. The most important thing is to be able to share a drink in a place where you feel comfortable, with people who enjoy life, just like in Colombia. We are waiting for you in Cartagena!