Let’s start first with the name: Hope & Sesame is obviously a pun on the magical phrase, ‘open sesame’. And should you enter into the bar in Guangzhou, China — not a city previously enamoured of Western-style cocktails, by the way — you’ll find yourself at a very speakeasy-style entrance (see the photo above and work out how to work your way in).
The bar is collaboration between two ex-hotel management professionals, Andrew Ho and Bastien Ciocca, who met when they studied together at one of the world’s premier hotel schools in Switzerland.
We met with Ciocca the night after the Drink Magazine Bar Awards in Shanghai last year. Ciocca was in a pretty good mood, as he walked us through the photos of his bar and evangelised its concept: the previous night Hope & Sesame had taken out the China Bar of the Year at the awards, the first time that a bar outside of China’s two biggest cities, Beijing and Shanghai, had picked up the title. Below, Ciocca fills us in on what makes Hope & Sesame the magical place it is.
Can you tell us about Hope & Sesame? What should someone expect when they walk through the doors?
Hope & Sesame is tucked away behind a traditional Cantonese cafe in the quaint neighbourhood of DongShanKou. Behind a secret door within Hope & Sesame is the iconic “The Jazz Room”, a salon with passionate jazz players congregating nightly to perform lively tunes, it is a true sanctuary even for the most discerned jazz enthusiasts. Our music director, Thomas Hoogland, from The Netherlands, manages a group of 15 to 18 local and foreign musicians, of varying styles and ensuring each night there is consistency and yet diversity.
Tell us about the cocktails — what’s the big idea that drives the drink program?
It is for us a unique testing ground for cocktail innovation. From liquid clarification, redistillation and exploration of different ice to sous-vide infusions, anyone that walk through the hard to find doors will discover a wide repertoire of techniques that ultimately, perfect the drink. However, simplicity is key, so in most of the cases, the curious guests will ask and we will be pleased to explain them more about the techniques and recipe for each drink.
Can you tell us a bit about the bar scene in Guangzhou and how Hope & Sesame fits in?
Guangzhou has lots to offer in terms of ingredients and culture. It is the third largest city in China and a lot of our patrons are foreign-educated, making it very easy for our customers to understand what we do. The bar scene is growing fast. It’s also a place where the initial investment to open a bar is lower than other cities, therefore there are lots of bartender-owner venues and daring concepts that would be harder to come by in cities like Hong Kong, Singapore and so on. We strive to get everyone within our industry closer to each other and stronger as a whole city.
How did Hope & Sesame open in Guangzhou?
Andrew and I have known each others for nearly 11 years, We studied hospitality management at the same university at Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne, Switzerland. After that, Andrew Joined Grand Hyatt and worked in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, I went on to join Shangri-La Hotels in Borneo and few years later, got transfered to Guangzhou where we met again. We enjoyed working in hotels, but we felt like the F&B focus of most hotels are a bit skewed, we were spending way too much time in meetings and paperworks which mounts to nothing, and often creativity gets inhibited by bureaucracy. Therefore we wanted to go back to our roots and create something very F&B focused, creative and something that allows us to spend more time with our guests, hence the collaboration of Hope & Sesame.
How long did you work on it before the doors opened?
Being one of the first cocktail bars in our city, it was difficult at first to ‘educate’ our customers on cocktail drinking culture, as most of them were used to drinking beer or very classic cocktails. However, through bringing in international calibre bartenders, interesting masterclasses and really spending time with each customer, we’ve managed to slowly change their habit of drinking. Social media networks in China are stronger than anywhere in the world, so as soon as we opened, the word went very fast (much faster than I could ever hope for).