Four Seasons Tenure
- Since 2017
- First Four Seasons Assignment: Head Bartender, EQUIS, Four Seasons Hotel Beijing
- Four Seasons Hotel Beijing; Soho House, London; Skippy’s Cocktail Bar, Leeds, England; Jake’s Bar & Grill, Leeds, England
- Harare, Zimbabwe
“It’s like that tag line for Patek Philippe: I don’t own it, I’m just taking care of it for the next generation.” That’s Keith Motsi diplomatically downplaying his role as Head Bartender of Four Seasons Hotel Seoul. Though speaking specifically of the signature speakeasy bar Charles H., his point extends to cocktail service throughout the Hotel, which offers one of the largest food-and-beverage operations in the company. “Nothing is broken here, so I haven’t tried to fix it.”
What Motsi has done is work to further cement Charles H.’s standing as an innovator at the top of the bar scene in Seoul, Korea, Asia, and the world beyond. The key to the bar’s success – “or of any bar, actually” – is its hospitality. “Guests want a place that feels like home,” he says. “Cocktails are central, but people really come for the experience. If they order a glass of water, we’ll serve them the best water they’ve ever had.”
Motsi’s eyes are always on details, and his thoughts one or two steps ahead. On a busy night, he’ll be looking around to see how guests are responding to the service. “If someone is wearing a coat, is it too cold? If they’re using a candle, is it too dark? We have to think before they do.”
His team includes the bartenders at Charles H. and others at dining outlets through the Hotel beyond. Brand new to Seoul when he arrived, Motsi focused on the market to learn about locals’ tastes and thirsts – “they really seem to like sweet-sour drinks here” – as well as what makes a hit on the bar scene. Part of what Four Seasons does so well is make food and beverage entertaining, he says. “People anticipate something serious at a luxury five-star hotel, so we need to bring an element of fun. That gets guests out of their shells.”
Motsi is not above dancing on the bar to do his part. “One of my signature moves,” he says with a laugh. “I might not dance every night, or if there are only a few people in the bar. But if it’s busy and somebody asks, I’ll just go with the flow.”
Born in Zimbabwe and raised in England, Motsi started work at Jakes Bar & Grill in Leeds before he was old enough to serve alcohol and immediately discovered “the joys” of seeing people happy. “There are moments when everyone is enjoying themselves and your adrenaline starts pumping. You feel like it’s all because of you.”
He studied architecture in London, but didn’t last long. Moving to the city for university was “one of the worst good things I ever did. There are so many great hotels and restaurants. It opened my eyes to what I really should be doing.” After returning to the north of England, he worked his way up to bar manager of Skippy’s Cocktail Bar in Leeds, and then returned to London to serve as head bartender at the members club Soho House, overseeing a team of 30 as well as cocktail development for two seasonal menus.
Three years later, in 2017, Motsi was in Bermuda when he got a call about opening EQUIS, the signature bar at Four Seasons Hotel Beijing. “I said, ‘Asia, why not?’”
It turned out to be demanding gig, with a huge space and not much time to get it ready. “I’d expected a few months. When they told me a week, I asked if I was dreaming: ‘Did you really say a week?’” They had. “So I said, ‘Okay – let’s get going. Where is the glassware and the spirits?’”
Motsi’s efforts paid off in the end: One year after opening, EQUIS was named Best Hotel Bar in China 2018 by Drink Magazine Asia.
Now happy at Four Seasons Hotel Seoul, Motsi has a range of interests that keep him clued into cultures and customs around the world, from rugby, football and badminton, to fine wine and cuisine.
Indeed, it’s funny, he says, that he is now managing behind the bar at Charles H., named for the legendary bon vivant and writer Charles H. Baker Jr. “He was one of the great travellers and explorers, learning about culture as he went. That’s what I like to do.”