While on a three-day vacation in Lamu at the Majlis some time this year my travel partner and I spent a lot of time at the pool bar sipping on different classic cocktails made my either Mangi himself or the other bartenders. My previous experience with bars at the coast has been either a big hit or a big miss in the cocktails department. At Majlis, Mangi’s warm demeanor that most people from the region are known for made me want to have a chat with him about his career. "I like to exploit every opportunity I get by learning from other people who know more than me in the industry." says Mangi.
Are you originally from the Coast?
Yes, I come from Kaloleni in Kilifi.
When and where did you start your career?
I started in 1993, at the White Elephant Hotel in Malindi.
Is the hotel still operational today?
Yes, the Italian owned hotel still operates till today.
was it like starting out as a bartender?
I was trained as a glass hand and then a waiter for several months. I also worked briefly in the restaurant. Over the years I have become a seasoned bartender and learnt a lot about making cocktails.
Take as through some other bars you have worked in?
After the White Elephant, I worked at Kilili Baharini also in Malindi. I then moved to Leisure Lodge in South Coast. I came back to Malindi to work with an international bartender . The bar called Fermento, was quite busy especially late in the night as most patrons would come to party there after the hotel bars are closed.
Any Nairobi experience?
I took a hiatus from the coastal bar scene and took a job at Casablanca in Nairobi. I was also the team that started the Liquid bar in Panari. I loved working in Nairobi but hated commuting so I came back here. Although Nairobi has more opportunities for a bartender looking to advance his career by taking other courses.
Any spots in Nairobi you've heard good things about?
The Kempinski bars have a good reputation. But Nairobi has new places opening up each and every day.
My dream is to work in a bar in Europe. They are busier. It would be a change of pace to work in such an environment.
Tell us about the cocktail menu here at The Majlis.
Our menu has most of the classic cocktails. I make sure that all the ingredients are readily available so that each customer that comes to the bars has their drink exactly as it should be.
Are there times you are forced to think out of the box?
Yes, especially for weddings. Couples may ask you for a special cocktail to serve their guests during their special day. These situations require me and my team to get creative.
What makes a bar run well?
For us, we ensure that the bar is well stocked and everyone from the supervisor to the barman must be on the same page on the essentials of making a cocktail. I even teach most of the waiters some basic bartending skills.
Do you think anyone can be a bartender?
It takes more than just skills. A good bartender must have a charming personality and some selling skills.
You mentioned Fermento Disco Bar having been a good place to work back in the day, why?
I liked more than other bars because the owner was a bartender.
What are the popular drinks on your menu?
The Margaritas, Mojitos, The Majlis, which is like a Caipirinha but topped with passion fruit, Dawas and Pina Colada's. All these drinks are ideal for this weather.
What do you think the bartenders in the Coast need to do to ensure they are on top of their game?
They need to learn and stick to the rules and measurements invented for different cocktails. If you follow the recipes and use the right ingredients, you will be on the right path.
What stands out about the way different nationalities you see here at The Majlis like their drinks?
Interesting. Let me think about that one. I notice Americans prefer mixed drinks such as G&Ts or a rum and coke and shots. But the world is global now so there isn't much of a difference.
Who are some of the famous people you have served?
I have served and worked for Flavio Briatore, Uhuru Kenyatta, Bob Collymore, Raila and other Kenyan politicians. I think I may have even served more without knowing who they were. You could be one of them. (Laughs)