Meet Takayuki Suzuki, a guest bartender for Hawaii Cocktail Week

Left: Takayuki Suzuki, right: his hand-chipped sphere of ice

Hawaii Cocktail Week kicks off this weekend, with events such as cocktail pairings, competitions and liquor tastings every day and night through Sunday, February 24. Local talent as well as visiting bartenders will be on hand to teach the finer points of the cocktail. One of them: Takayuki Suzuki, bar manager at the Park Hotel Tokyo, where he hand chips ice into a perfect sphere: one large ice ball that offers less dilution in your drink. I caught up with him via email to find out more about cocktail culture in Japan, how it's influenced by the Japanese tea ceremony and the significance of the ice ball in drinks. The following is an edited version of our exchange.

What was your first memorable cocktail?
Sipping a “mint frappe” with an elementary school classmate at his house in secret.

How were you inspired to become a bartender?
When I was very, very young, I was a regular customer at a jazz bar in my neighborhood. I was affected by the owner and I respected him as a person of high integrity.

Can you tell me how cocktail culture in Japan is different from America?
In 16th century, Sen Rikyu created a culture of tea called "Chado/Sado." The manners and etiquette of this culture is very similar with the culture of Japanese bars. Each teahouse was so small that you had to bend your back and the samurais had to leave their swords to enter. Even people with authority had to let go of their weapons and simply enjoy the tea that was prepared for them.

The owner of the teahouse normally prepared the tea by only using a tea powder and hot water. This is similar to how you make a martini only with vermouth and gin.

Everything starts by the owner's analysis. The recipe differed depending on if the customers were in a sad, happy, lonely or friendly mood. In the world of Chado there's a phrase "Ichigo Ichie." This means that the moment when people encounter another doesn't happen the same way everytime.

It's best to enjoy that very moment and that is why it was highly important to give the best service the owner could.

My theory in bartending is to create a cocktail that will fit the customer's mood by understanding them. The bartenders aren't heroes, and it also shouldn't be about having a list of great original cocktails.

What do you like to drink when you're not working?
It’s depending on “mood.”

Tell me more about the ice ball. Were its origins in Japan?
Sorry, I do not know by who and when the ice ball was created. 
But, I have over 20 years of experience as a bartender.
 Twenty years ago, there was an ice ball in the Tokyo bar scene.
 But it was not popular. So, I tried to spread this culture to the young generation.

About the philosophy of ice ball (this is my personal opinion and my cocktail philosophy): In the natural world, the ice balls resemble the stone of the riverbank.
 By the flow of water and after a long period of time, the stone become a sphere.
 So, the ice ball is not only for design. It represents the stream of time.
 The ice ball has been influenced by the philosophy of the wabi sabi and the Japanese rock garden.

Meet Takayuki Suzuki during his presentation, Eastern Eden, A Look to Japan, Monday, February 18, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., $35. Mingle with bartenders and other cocktail enthusiasts during Hawaii Cocktail Week. Find the full schedule here:

HONOLULU Magazine is the local media sponsor of this exciting inaugural event, so watch us for all the updates on the cocktail-pairing dinners, workshops, seminars and, of course, all the tasting events.