If the cocktails at Rabbit Hole, Crimson Room, or Bar Marco have impressed you before, it’s likely Supawit ‘Palm’ Muttaratana had something to do with that.
Maybe he’s born with it, maybe it’s the Asian genes making him look forever 27—Palm has been whipping up creations behind the bar since 2009 at The St. Regis Bangkok. He then went on to compete and win the Diageo World Class Thailand in 2012, becoming the brand ambassador for Diageo Reserve Thailand, and then also winning the Campari Bartender Competition Asia in 2019. Palm also worked as a group bar manager for Foodie Collection Group, including 80/20 Bangkok and Vesper. Suffice to say, he’s one you can trust when it comes to cocktails.
Now, Palm is the group bar director at Watermelon Group, working with the award-winning Rabbit Hole, the jazzy Crimson Room, and beloved vinyl favourite Bar Marco.
Recently, we busted down the hidden door of Rabbit Hole, and got together to chat with Palm about all things bar industry — from then to now.
So we talked Bangkok bar industry with Palm Supawit
How has the bar industry changed from when you first started out, compared to now?
“So I began my cocktail journey at the St. Regis Bangkok around 10 years ago.” Palm prefaces, “Back then, it was a trend that hadn’t happened yet. We could see cocktails gaining popularity globally, but it was something that was very premature—perhaps not even born yet. When you want to learn how to make a cocktail, you go to a bookstore and study from there, or maybe go to the bar and see the bartenders in action. Today, technology has involved. When you want to know how to make a cocktail, you open up Youtube and easily search for tutorials. There’s even quick and easy how-to videos on Instagram and TikTok—they’re everywhere.”
He adds, “The concept of cocktails is still the same, though, but what makes a drink special changes overtime. It changes with the era, the consumers, the concept of the bar—everything.”
“There are more people interested in cocktails now compared to the past, and more choices in town that those people can make.” He continues, “People know more when it comes to alcohol as they come to the bar, which is a good thing because they know exactly what they like. A lot of customers arrive in Thonglor and order ‘something sweet and sour, easy to drink’, but that ‘something sweet, easy to drink’ cocktail needs to have something special as well.”
It’s certainly easier to fall in love with cocktails now, as Palm says. “It’s become easier to understand cocktails, the entire process behind them, as well as opening your own bar. However, it has also become much harder to make the bar a good one.”
What made you fall in love with the cocktail industry?
Palm actually started out as a barista. “It was sixteen years ago, when I was mainly making coffee for a hotel restaurant. I would buy books on different types of coffees and how to be better at the craft, but being in a restaurant means that I was not limited to making coffee. I learnt about different types of wine, cocktails, spirits, and that’s when I realised how fun they all are.”
“You study coffees by their taste and scent, as well as utilising a somewhat fixed recipe. You study wines by their labels, subtle differences as you’re tasting, and the place the grapes are from.” He adds, “But cocktails have so much artistry and creativity you can put into a glass—so many spirits and liqueurs and unexpected ingredients you can incorporate. It’s just fun doing all that and studying them all.”
What made Palm stay in love with the industry, however, is the hospitality he can provide. “I think I just enjoy being in the hospitality industry.” He continues, “I like to do things, and at the same time talk to other people. When I see other people enjoy my presence or the products that I provide, it’s also an enjoyable moment for me. Working in the alcohol industry doesn’t necessarily mean I get to do that, but as a bartender in a cocktail bar, it’s perfect.”
What’s the worst drink you’ve ever had to make?
“I don’t think there’s a worst drink,” Palm laughs, “If a customer orders something weird, it’s also our job to make it less weird—make a product that’s presentable. There are definitely customers that come in with a custom order. If the necessary ingredients are there in the bar, I see no reason I shouldn’t serve it.”
He gives us an example: the Long Island Iced Tea. “When cocktail bars started to become a thing here, a lot of bartenders would hate making the Long Island Iced Tea. We know you’re just looking to get smashed, not to taste something creative or sophisticated—also not necessarily a bad thing. I don’t think that mindset is the best to have. We have all the ingredients needed for the recipe, so why not? We make money, the customers are happy, everybody wins.”
“Remember that cocktails are flexible. If you don’t like olives in your martini, we can still make it work somehow. Ask the customer, make sure they have a good time. It’s up to the communication you provide and the balance in the drinks you create.”
What is it like to be a bartender in Thailand?
“Cocktails are never an easy business, not at all.” Palm emphasises, “If you really want to make it in the cocktail industry, be it as a bartender or an owner, it’s very hard to do so. Outside looking in may seem easy, but the skills and the expertise we need to spend years improving on is no joke.”
In Thailand specifically, there are a few elements that add extra difficulty to a bartender’s life. “The law, the government, the advertisement [we can do]—the alcohol industry is not exactly in the place that it could potentially be at, even though we’re a country with huge tourism. That’s the reason why people in the bar industry aren’t getting the support they should have. We have a lot of amazing Thai bartenders that unfortunately cannot hone their skills as they would like.”
“The alcohol industry isn’t even taught as a career path in Thailand.” He notes, “If you want to train to make cocktails, you need to pay money for courses—a lot of money. This is compared to a lot of countries that support bartenders, like Singapore, for example. They have government-funded schools built specifically for this line of work, so if in the end it doesn’t work out, you always still have somewhere to be. You don’t have that in Thailand, so if you pay a lot of money to be a bartender but you aren’t happy in the end, that money goes down the drain and you have nowhere else to be, unless you invest even more.”
So what makes a good bartender?
Of course, skills are important, but that alone doesn’t always make a good bartender. “One of the most important aspects is the attitude.” Palm says, “Sure, the knowledge and your hospitality matters, but the attitude ties it all together. When you go into a bar and talk to the bartender, if the attitude isn’t right, you can tell. And even if the cocktail is the best one on Earth, you won’t go back to visit. A good bartender will talk, take care of you, and make sure you have a good time even if you’re coming alone.”
Lastly, what is some advice you’d like to give bartenders just starting out?
“Understand that first and foremost, the bar industry is also a hospitality industry.” Palm elaborates, “That’s one of the things many people seem to forget or overlook. Just making a good-tasting drink isn’t all of it, sure it’s a big part, but make sure you know what you’re getting into. You come in around the afternoon, get home very late, deal with drunk people—it’s certainly a change in your routine. Being a bartender means you can utilise a lot of your skills and creativity, but it needs a lot of knowledge and perseverance. There’s a lot of bartenders in town, especially now, so make sure you take all that into consideration and constantly look for opportunities. Don’t give up too easily.”