Head Bartender, Charles H.
Four Seasons Tenure
- Since 2017
- First Four Seasons Assignment: Current
- Dandelyan Bar, The Mondrian Hotel London; American Bar & Beaufort Bar, Savoy Hotel, London; Hotel de Russie, Rome
- Rome, Italy
- Studied Law, University Roma Tre, Rome
- Italian, English, French, Spanish
Lorenzo Antinori had wanted to move to Asia. When he caught wind of Charles H., the signature drinking experience at Four Seasons Hotel Seoul, Korea shot to the top of his list. “It fascinated me that there was a bar in Korea that was following the legacy and tastes of Charles H. Baker Jr. and that an American was running it,” he remembers. “I wanted to be a part of it.”
The American was Christopher Lowder, who opened Charles H. back in 2015. When Lowder placed an obscure Facebook post – “It was something like, ‘Opportunity in Southeast Asia. If interested, get in touch” – Antinori, who was a professional acquaintance, reached out. “I told him, ‘Please put my name forward. I’d love the chance.’ I truly believe that if you want something and you bring it close, it will happen.”
And so it did. As Head Bartender of Four Seasons first Korean address, Antinori is right where he wanted to be: in Asia and in charge.
Modeled with inspiration from the legendary bon vivant Charles H. Baker Jr., a Florida native who drank and ate his way around the world from the 1920s to the 1950s jotting down recipes as he went, Charles H. is arguably the standout cocktail bar in Seoul and the country beyond. Headquartered behind a sleek 36-foot (11 metre) mahogany bar, Antinori manages a sophisticated scene built around a menu that changes quarterly to put guests in the times and places that Baker visited – Cuba in 1930, Manila in 1934, Shanghai in 1926 – with drinks, eats and interior design combining to tell a distinctly American story of adventure and discovery of unique flavours around the world.
“Every cocktail geek has a copy of The Gentleman’s Companion,” notes Antinori of Baker’s classic travelogue-cum-cookbook. “They wear them out.”
Antinori’s role grants him plenty of freedom, from choosing spirits to selecting glassware to overseeing employee training and organising seminars and events. Every couple of months, in fact, he invites bar personalities from around the world to share their vision, the better to spread knowledge while revealing Charles H. as “not just a great cocktail bar but a model to follow that pushes the Korean bar scene higher.”
The traditional bar culture of Korea is a mirror opposite of the west, says Antinori, noting that local bartenders tend to be quiet, elegant, gracious and almost romantic in their movement. “There is no way for them to express their personality. At Charles H., we want our bartenders to be engaging and open to connecting with guests while delivering outstanding product and service.” Indeed, Antinori says that locals he leads are occasionally surprised by his outward engagement of customers. “They laugh about it. The thing I want them to understand is that every guest is different: sometimes they want to be left alone, other times they want to tell you their life story. It’s important for our bartenders to be curious about who they’re serving.”
Antinori stumbled upon his calling while studying law “very badly” in Rome. Following a year-long, head-clearing break in Australia, he returned to school and also took a part-time job at a bar whose “very passionate” owner got him thinking that law wasn’t really his thing. “I always liked to party and entertain. I was always the guy trying to gather people together. The bar scene was where I belonged.”
He moved right into hotel bars – “they carry a magic aura with them” – first in Rome, then in London. There his talents contributed to one bar being honoured as “Best International Hotel Bar” and the cocktail line up of another scoring “Best International Menu” at annual Tales of the Cocktail gatherings in New Orleans.
Now settled into Charles H. in Seoul, Antinori is excited to be on the cutting edge of a new Golden Age of Cocktails in Korea. “The fact that we’re able to share our knowledge and slowly but surely bring in ingredients that have never been available here has gone a long way,” he explains. “Local bartenders are getting curious, and consumers are more open-minded and desiring to try new things.”