Before we met Shavinraj Gopinath, we’ve already heard stories of him from the industry – who’s affectionately known as ‘The Fairy Godfather’. Raised in Singapore, Shavinraj moved to Bangkok a few years back where he slowly carved out a name for himself managing institutions like Maggie Choo’s. His outgoing character and skillset eventually led him to potential investors for his own bar, Philtration. The Bar Awards sits down with the magical Shavinraj Gopinath, as he talks about having his biggest wish come true.
TBA: Hi Sha, we want to know more about your bartending journey. How did you end up settling in the Land of a Thousand Smiles and opening up your own bar?
Sha: Well, I started off 22 years ago as a dishwasher in Singapore. I was so talkative that the chef asked me why I was doing the dishes. Our F&B director had the same thought too, that I would be much better at working as a bartender and one day, I was transferred to the bar. I eventually moved to One Altitude and Violet Oon’s where I led the team and the rest was history. Five years ago, I came to realise that Thailand is filled with many talents and potential, so I made the big jump and moved over. My time here has seen me growing from a group beverage manager, to a consultant to, finally, a partner.
We’re very excited for Philtration. Tell us about it, we love spoilers!
Philtration is primarily driven by heritage. We want everything to be linked back to said heritage and how we tell that story. Sure, we can always just put up a secret door, but what is the story behind this secret door? Telling a story is important and as ‘The Fairy Godfather, I’m good at telling stories that need to be told. More than just words, you will see our story come true in everything we do, including the design of the space, our uniforms and of course, our drinks. One of our founders is actually a descendant of Mee Kasemsuwan (also known as Moh Mee), and this is the same building where his office and factory used to be. This very space that we are standing in is where he produced his medicines a long time ago. I think it is time we celebrated that heritage.
We love your team’s energy, tell us a little bit about them too!
My guys have worked with me for more than two years now. They really understand me because we were, as people say, forged in fire. Thawatchal ‘Not’ Permphol is my head bartender and has been in the industry for 22 years now. Tanad ‘Jay’ Mhadawee is a bit younger and was one of the senior bartenders at Maggie Choo’s when we met. With these guys, there is a lot of mutual understanding and respect that goes deep. I know that the bar is in good hands if I am away for an extended period of time.
Your cocktail list is an intriguing one, with the health benefits included. What guides your creativity when you designed the drinks?
Great question, so once again, back to the story we are preaching. Our cocktails pays homage to the medicinal history of the Moh Mee family. We want to put our own twist on the ingredients that were used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for millenniums. Beets by Dr. Phil, for example, is the perfect cocktail to start the night off with. We balance the bitter Chang beer reduction with fresh beetroot juice that is naturally sweet, so it becomes very enticing and smooth. Herbs are a very versatile ingredient, and the team wants to celebrate those that you can find here in Thailand. Mohmeetini is our version of a classic Martini infused with Moh Mee’s medicines, you can expect it to be very bold and complex, and of course, healthy.
Everything in this venue looks like there is a story, but do share more about outfitting the space.
This bar is brought to life by WVS Interior Design and Production Camp PDC. We wanted the place to be sleek and padded with soft corners. Organic elements made of reused wood and botany features subtlety on some of the walls and furniture. The markings on the walls are actually from the spices kept here from all the way back then, we thought to ourselves that we definitely have to keep that. Our bar is designed to be like an omakase style counter, so that our guests can see the cocktails made at eye-level. Once you have uncovered the secret entrance, stepping into this bar is like stepping into another world.
Opening a bar is no simple feat, what are some of the memorable moments leading up to Philtration’s opening?
Designing the cocktail menu is definitely memorable. It took a lot of research and sourcing to get the right herbs for the cocktail; we have a secret shelf of herbs and spices at the bar of the bar to house them all. Of course, there is also the challenge of bringing to life the vision. It was not easy but I am proud to say we have done it.
As a proud new owner, what advice do you have for others looking to open their own bar in Bangkok?
If you are looking to open your own bar, finding the right team and business partners are important. Look for people that believes in the same dream as you, and bring their own unique skill sets to the table. This is something that will take years to build, so start now!
What are your favourite bars to visit when you are not working?
My favorite bars in Bangkok are Tropic City and Backstage Cocktail Bar. Coley in Kuala Lumpur really stood out for me too. These bars are sincere in what they do, with a great vibe that makes me feel like I am home. I’ve always met awesome people when i am at these bars.
It looks like it is going to be a very promising year for your team, what else can we expect from the bar and the parent company of Philtration?
In the upcoming months, we want to ramp up our sustainability program. Currently we use a lot of leftover ingredients from the restaurant Moh Mee Restaurant upstairs. We are aiming to go paperless as there are much better alternatives such as sending receipts online.
Our holding company, Elysium Enterprise, has many talents from many different fields. All of our partners complement each other, and we realise that we can do a lot with our strengths combined. We are playing around with ideas to open hostels, small hotels, restaurants and music festivals over the next five years. But for now, my attention is firmly rooted in my baby bar. This bar is a promise to myself, and my partners. One dream at a time, right?
Philtration is officially opened! Visit them for a dose of that cocktail magic and homely hospitality.