5 Minutes with Bar Maverick Ronan Keilthy 28 HongKong Street Head Bartender

Published - 23 February 2021, Tuesday
  • 28HK
  • 28HK

Welcome to our continuing series Bar Mavericks. Join us as we get up close and personal with some of the industry’s shining stars responsible for the ongoing transformation of the bar scene across Asia. 

Join Chris Marshall as he goes in for a no-holds-barred discussion with Ronan Keilthy, Head Bartender at 28 HongKong Street, Singapore. 

It’s a genuine delight to meet Ronan Keilthy in person, a British citizen based in Singapore, with an impressive collection of bartending experience in Hong Kong, Singapore, and the UK. His mission is to make an impactful contribution by providing a unique experience in the food and beverage industry and adding value to an operation focussed on hospitality and product education. 

Interestingly, time spent at school pointed Ronan towards a science-based field. At University in the UK he studied Biology and Animal Science by day, but found himself working in a bar by night, which led to a personal discovery that this was something that sparked inner drive and growing dreams for the future. As Ronan’s interest in F&B burgeoned, he took up his first full-time position at a cocktail bar and has never looked back. 

28 HongKong Street

Call it a perfect match, but working in F&B has allowed Ronan to further his long-standing passion for science and history. From how flavours interact to the production of spirits, he claims that working behind the bar has given him ample “nerd space”, as he consistently expands his learning and knowledge. According to Ronan: “The process that is at the core of scientific experimentation, is identical to the testing that goes into creating a cocktail.

From diving down the rabbit hole of drinks history, to trying to figure out how and why things come to be, this industry holds a wealth of knowledge both in its history, its future, and in the amazing people who work in it.” Ronan’s bartending passion lies in the history, process, and techniques related to cocktails, spirits and bars; as well as the hospitality aspect of the business. 

Working at international venues has given Ronan an admirable understanding of the multi-faced industry, where each element has its own joys; and when brought together, they create something much more than the sum of their parts. He shares that one of the few absolutes about working in F&B is that no two days are the same, keeping things exciting and stimulating. In his words: “Technical skill, knowledge, problem-solving, hospitality and good old-fashioned adrenaline all play their roles in working service day-to-day and allow me to engage different aspects of myself and my personality.”

Ronan acknowledges that the F&B world has changed drastically in the last 10-15 years. Everything from technique, to technology, to creativity has put F&B professionals like Ronan in a new spotlight that was simply non-existent before. Whilst these advances have undoubtedly pushed the industry forward, the part that has remained unchanged carries the largest impact: the ability to make a guest’s night. And people have always come first for Ronan. 

This head bartender carries well cultivated people skills, and the way he works alongside team members or interacts with guests or co-workers displays his utmost respect for people. This quality is reinstated by hearing him convey that the one thing which brings him the most satisfaction is the opportunity to go above and beyond to create a memorable and amazing experience for a guest.

Here are Ronan’s essential qualities to be successful in F&B:


  1. Be a nice person — this may sound crushingly simple, but it is a leading factor behind what easily kills the vibe of a venue. More often than not, customers return to a venue based on their pleasant memories of receiving polite service from staff. Personally, I would rather hang out somewhere with agreeable people and good drinks than a place with rude people and mind-blowing drinks!  Positive service experiences tend to get underrated, but I feel it’s what makes all the difference. Daily, we meet and interact with a staggering number of people, each with their own stories and series of events that led them to come in for a drink. Being respectful of that and taking the time to treat guests with politeness and warmth will often result in guests reciprocating in the same way, with more openness. Plus, who wants to be friends with the one arsehole at a party?
  2. Be attentive — much of the communication that takes place in a bar is either indirect or unspoken, both between guests and amongst staff. Being intuitive to the little things, allows you to work more effectively with colleagues and go above and beyond for a guest when they are least expecting it. 
  3. Communicate — whilst the little things may be unspoken, many of the larger things can definitely be spoken. This is not only beneficial in proactively avoiding mistakes, but it creates a deeper sense of awareness in what is going on around you. The bar has so many moving parts and being knowledgeable of the direction all parts are moving towards is highly advantageous. 
  4. Knowledge — I am a firm believer that the most powerful tool you can equip yourself with is an in-depth knowledge of your craft and your products. The bottles on the back bar are just as much your team members as the person standing on the next station over. Knowing the backstory of each, how they play, and how they work best — makes for easier recommendations, more effective cocktail building, and allows you opportunities to engage guests with stories and information that they may not otherwise know. 
  5. Be open — knowing everything about everything is a near impossible challenge. As people in general become more and more educated about craft spirits and fine drinking, the role of the “all-knowing-bartender” is wearing very thin. There have been situations where guests have been more knowledgeable about certain subjects or products than I have. In my own journey to be a continuous life-learner, I’ve found that being open to new sources of information, or at times changing my perspective on a subject, is very useful in engendering a growing base of knowledge. 
  6. Keep sharp — your palate and your brain are the most important tools you have in your arsenal working behind the bar, and like most tools, proper maintenance keeps everything functioning in good order! Taste, taste, and taste again. Read, read, and read some more. Just because you did something once, does not mean you’ve arrived at achieving the end goal of a situation, Products change, new information is published, and you too change as a person. Remaining on top of those changes ensures that you have wisdom under your belt to make the best choices for both your drinks and your guests. Also, clean as you go, it helps!
  7. Don’t believe all the hype — bandwagons can be attractive, but they do not necessarily guarantee movement in a direction that is well intended. Perhaps its Instagram, maybe it’s someone pitching you a new product, or it could even be peer pressure; all of these are valid reasons to look into something, but always back yourself by doing your own research. Make sure it is an adaption or inclusion that you are fully on board with and can justify to yourself before putting your name behind it. 
  8. Don’t take yourself too seriously —in this modern era of instant gratification; follower counts, internet stardom, and getting wrapped up in it all is far too easy. Fame can come swift and fast, and you can feel like you are on top of the world. However, never fail to remember why you are here. The 7000 followers you have aren’t going to pay the bills or make a lasting impression. It is the guests that come in day-in and day-out, the guests that spend their hard-earned cash, and the guests that become friends that really matter. I am sure that your Facebook photo which attracted 1000 likes feels fantastic, yet while that’s amazing, did the last person you served feel the same way when they left your bar? The guests are your constant, primary goal. We are not curing cancer, but people in the F&B industry have a unique power to make someone’s day feel better. Be it through a good meal, the right drink, or just a friendly chat, these elements are the core of both hospitality and this industry. Don’t belittle the fact that while you’re just making drinks, you still have the power to change people’s lives. 
  9. Passion — I won’t lie, this is not the easiest line of work to be in. Truthfully, the hours can be long, the exertion very physical, and the mental strain takes its toll. The most successful people in this industry are not the people doing it for a buck or for social media fame (these people are often a flash in the pan and do not create lasting impressions). The people who create waves and push both themselves and the industry forward, are the people who do this job out of a deep, almost psychotic love for F&B. They are willing to wade through the rough hours, the stress, the physical strain, and the challenges that come their way, because they are focussed on something that speaks to them on a very intimate level; propelling them to go the extra mile to create something special, whether it be a product or an experience. It truly takes a very special kind of crazy to work in this industry, and those unforgettable crazies are some of the most amazing, intelligent and genuine people I have ever had the chance to meet. 
  10. Don’t cut corners — the entire bar is a stage. Whether you are the headliner or the roadie, people are paying attention to you. Screw ups happen, and it’s important to own them and learn from them. The one thing that should never be excused is a lapse in quality, be it in product or service that was down to a lack of professionalism in not doing something the right way. There is an old quote that reads: “Treat your customers like kings and kings like your customers.” Every single person that walks into your venue is the most important person to you. Their enjoyment of time well-spent is your responsibility.  Excuses don’t cut it — whether it is early, whether they are your friends (or whatever else) it does not give you a reason to slack on performance. The more you do something, the better you get at it, so why waste time? Do your best and show excellence at every moment possible. The age-old saying rings true: “Practice makes perfect.”
  11. Be yourself and have fun — a brilliant bartender once said something along the lines of: “never have a team who are all the same person.” People are individuals with their own differences, they come from different backgrounds and carry a different share of life experiences. These aspects allow people to relate to each other and provide viewpoints that may not have been considered by others. These qualities are incredibly powerful in working together on projects with fellow team members or finding a way to make guests feel comfortable in what can be a very intimidating environment. At the end of the day, we call this “work,” but more than often, it's simply an enjoyable part of our lives in F&B! Good vibes are infectious and tend to attract genuine smiles and joyous laughter. Ultimately, whether it is a colleague or a guest — isn’t making people happy the reason behind what we are here for?

Wrapping up the discussion, Ronan admits that it would be challenging to pinpoint a single professional or personal achievement that he would consider to be the most noteworthy. However, he does enthusiastically mention that he feels more than blessed to be doing something that he is truly passionate about.

He would like to be able to give back in a meaningful way to the industry that he has received so much from, to show sincere gratitude to the many people who have lent him assistance throughout the years, and their immense support in paving his path for ongoing career success in F&B! 


Chris Marshall is a well-known cocktail aficionado on the Singapore and Southeast Asia bar scene, and partner at Distilled LLP, an independent, Singapore-based brand development agency representing spirit brands both locally and regionally.

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RATED 5.5 / 8
Came here before but wasnt TOO impressed by the cocktails, but good overall


RATED 8 / 8
Singapore, it has been argued, is the cocktail capital of the world currently, although London and New York might argue that! What's not up for dispute is that 28 drove Singapore to be so well respected! Super friendly team who are only too pleased to create your favourites or inspire and delight first timers. Highly recommended.

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