Happy Hour With… Jorge Conde Of Smoke & Mirrors
After a long day at work, a tipple or two at Smoke & Mirrors perched atop the National Gallery Singapore is always a welcome idea. Gorgeous city views and modern interiors aside, it has one of the most creative bar menus in town dubbed “Illusion of Flavours”—thanks to 29-year-old Spanish head bartender Jorge Conde, who wanted to “create something that would surprise guests.”
It’s a culmination of his two passions, bartending and design, given the fact that he’s also a graphic designer who ran his own business in Spain for two years. His eye for design is evident in the 14-page menu, peppered with his own cocktail drawings as well as cheekily named tipples like Piccaso’s Pencil and Dalí’s Self Portrait—named after Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí, respectively.
In between sips of his signature cocktails, we chatted with Conde on merging his two loves and what’s he’s currently working on at his lab.
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What’s your average day like?
Jorge Conde (JC) I try to get up early even when I arrive home very late to have a bit of time to myself and to get inspired and motivated before starting work at the Bar. I enjoy delivering experiences and making sure my guests have an unforgettable time.
I also spend many hours in the “back of house” with production, but I relish this time as our prep is not very systematic and allows me to keep the creativity alive. I don’t get bored with the routine.
Tell us about the fascinating “Illusion of Flavours” cocktail menu.
JC It’s based on three core ideas. First is illusion which ties back to the Smoke & Mirrors name, evoking the idea of magic and surprises—what you see is not always what you get.
Second is art because of our unique museum location, which is why you’ll see some of my favourite artists throughout the menu. Last is flavours, the most important component of cocktails. That said, this menu is all about finding unique ways to extract flavours from ingredients and combine them for a surprising result.
What was your idea behind it?
JC Ultimately, I wanted to challenge guests’ preconceptions about cocktails and inspire them to be curious and ask questions.
How do we experience the full “Illusion of Flavours” menu?
JC All of them are different and unique, so everyone must try at least one from each of the six categories—perhaps after a couple of visits.
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Do you have any favourites?
JC I love The Japanese Gang is Still Alive, an experimental twist on the classic Whisky Sour, made using Asian ingredients like black sesame and black rice.
Another one is La Fumata Bianca, meaning “the white smoke”; it's a fruity and aromatic concoction of Raicilla, Gentian, Bianchi, grapefruit aroma and tartufo bianco.
Picasso’s Pencil is also special with its pencil aroma that gives way to fruity and oaky notes from the Tobalá, sherry wine, apple vinegar and oleo-saccharum.
With your busy schedule, do you still have time for your other passion—drawing?
JC At the moment, it’s hard to make time for other hobbies as the new menu has been keeping me very busy. But normally, I will draw in my notebooks when I can and you’ll see some of my artworks if you visit my lab area at the bar.
What are you currently working on?
JC I´m already working on the second part of Illusion of Flavours. In addition to cocktail R&D, I’m also very focused on my team. We’re constantly striving to improve our guest experience, so as part of this I’m organising regular training for the team to develop their individual knowledge and level of service.
And you also mentioned that you’re into music?
JC I used to play the trombone in my village when I was young, then I started doing music productions and wrote lyrics for my own rap group. It was quite underground but we did well considering how young we were.
I was also producing for friends. One music project I did was with a Cuban gentleman, where we use to create Cuban-rap fusion, producing both the music and lyrics—there was a lot of rum around, and it was so much fun!
What’s your ideal Happy Hour?
JC Every single hour must be happy in a cocktail bar!
If you could have one drink for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
JC I enjoy bitter aperitif cocktails, something you can enjoy before dinner or with a meal—so I’d have to say a Negroni or a Boulevardier.
What do you want guests to take away from their visit to Smoke & Mirrors?
JC I want them to enjoy the whole experience. Going out for a drink is so much more than just the drink itself. It’s about the ambience, the service, the music, everything.