London’s Dre Masso is a celebrated mixologist, now living in Bali, Indonesia innovating new cocktail concepts using tropical undiscovered ingredients. We caught up with Masso to gain some insight into his history, work and his new venture Akademi.
You are recognized around the world for your breakthrough cocktail concepts - where did you begin?
My parents are from central Colombia. In 1975 my mother replied to an advertisement to be nanny for an English family living in London. She got the job and purchased a one-way ticket costing £25. She was pregnant at the time and I was smuggled in with her. My father was left behind to do his own thing. I met him for the first and only time in 2001. My mum left school and started working when she was 12 years old. Before leaving Colombia she was working at a large drinks factory making syrups and cordials. My mum has always grafted. In additional to the nanny job, at the weekends she would work part-time in her friends restaurant. Not being able to afford a babysitter mum would often take me with her. Chefs, bartenders and waitresses became my playmates. I have always loved the atmosphere of a bar and restaurant environment.
I grew up and went to school in South London. My first holiday job was at the local country club, where my mum also worked. At age 15 I was slicing fruit, changing barrels and washing glasses in a members bar. I studied photography at college. This was back in 1992 and we had to pay for our own lenses, film, photographic paper and chemicals. I probably choose the most expensive subject to study so to support this I would work a few nights a week at a place called Joe’s Bar and Grill in Richmond. I found myself working more and more in the bar and by the end of my 2 years at college I was a full-time employee. I loved every element of the job. Bartending was and still is a great deal of fun. You get to meet many different people from all walks of like on a daily basis. I have made some great friends over the bar, who started off as guests. I also loved making the cocktails. I find there is something very pleasurable, therapeutic and rewarding about making something that tastes delicious. I get the same feeling form cooking.
I was 18 and decided to move on and find another bar job in central London. I used Time Out magazine as a reference. I opened it’s Bars and Clubs section and telephoned the venues that sounded interesting. I was offered a job at The Rock Garden in Covent Garden. This was an incredible experience, working with a diverse and extremely multi national team, serving some very interesting and eclectic guests. During the week the place was one of London’s most iconic live music venues. At the weekend it transformed into one of London’s most important House music Clubs also synonymous with drugs the SOHO gay scene.
A year or so later I was told about The Atlantic Bar & Grill in Piccadilly, owned by Oliver Peyton. One of the few late night drinking venues that offered quality cocktails. I went to check it out and was overwhelmed and impressed by it’s early 1900’s architectural beauty and grandeur. A sweeping staircase led you downstairs to the hotel style lobby area where a huge chandelier hang. One door led you to their private room named Chez Cup, another to Dick’s Bar (named after Dick Bradsell) and the third to their main bar and 200 cover restaurant. This is the place that truly opened my eyes to the world of bar tending and cocktails.
Where do you see mixology going next?
The cocktail world has this amazing cycle where concepts are continuously reintroduced, but better and smarter than the time before. We have had the rebirth of vintage and forgotten libations in recent times showcasing speakeasy style bars and drinks from and before American prohibition in the 20’s and 30’s. Tiki culture from 1940’s has been popular again over the past 10 years and disco drinks that were all the rage in the 70’s and 80’s are having a great come back. Bars continue to take influences and techniques from the kitchen. The thing that I am seeing more and more of at the moment and most in to is the idea of supporting and utilizing local agriculture, along with philosophy of root to flower, where very little goes to waste. This is what Akademi is all about.
What brought you to Indonesia?
I originally came to Indonesia in 2010 as the bar consultant for Potato Head in Jakarta. I then went on to return every six months and have created the drinks programs for all their venues in Jakarta, Bali and Singapore. I moved to Bali in 2013 with my family. We are now about to open The Katamama Hotel and Akademi bar, which is very close to my heart.
Tell us about Akademi?
Akademi is a really unique bar located in the heart of the The Katamama hotel. A really intimate space which houses one of the largest collections of premium spirits in Indonesia, as well as a vast range of locally infused arak, botanicals from the Indonesian archipelago, barrel aged cocktails and a library of cocktail books. We have designed bespoke ceramic, wood and copper cocktail vessels and are championing the best of Bali in so many ways. The menu is more of a drink guide to explain flavours, which will encourage the guests to drink outside of the box. Bar snacks twist traditional Indonesian recipes. The architecture and interior design are ground breaking. The music and sonic program is very impressive. I can’t wait for all of these elements to come together.
Any collaborations or events lined up?
We will be inviting regular friends of the industry to host the Akademi bar. I want to start by showcasing local talent within the food and drink world then explore further afield. As from February we will be receiving guest bartenders.
What next for Akademi?
We will also be focusing on seasonal specials. We have a section of the drinks guide, which is called The Study, where we explore ingredients when they are at their prime. We investigate different ways to use those flavours and showcase them in cocktails.
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