The unstoppable Holly Graham

“It sounds strange but I don’t have any definite goals right now because it feels like I’ve done great. I’m super happy with where I’m at and getting on that Bar World 100 list blew my fucking mind, I was in tears seeing my name at 26."

Holly Graham entered the 2020 edition of Drinks International’s Bar World 100 just outside the top quarter as her reputation within the Asia bar scene has exploded over the past few years, having only landed her first full-time role with Time Out in 2015. She arrived in Hong Kong as an English teacher after teaching in Thailand and Seoul and her unpaid freelance work opened the door to a writing career.

“I’m quite a manic person because I thrive off socialising and being around people and just getting stuff done. I always want more jobs,” says Graham. “I spent a lot of time meeting people at night with Time Out and the more I understood the industry the more I wanted to work on the trade side rather than consumer.”

Graham didn’t have to think twice about taking up a role at Drink Magazine in 2018, where she now acts as managing editor. 

“I have a great relationship at Drink because they just let me get on with it. I’m self motivated so it’s great to have their trust and respect. My family are back in London and they were great when I was growing up because they never cared what I did as long as I did it well and worked hard. When Covid hit lots of people just wanted to hide but I felt the opposite. I wanted to go pedal to the metal and get as much content out as possible to help people.” 

Graham has become a leading figure in championing women in Asia’s bar scene and prior
to Covid she launched Asia Women in Booze, a platform for women in the industry, while also managing to pull off Speed Rack Asia 2019.

She adds: “I’d love to get Asia Women in Booze to the point of having seminars and events, but Speed Rack was a big milestone for me and probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I was the person on the ground dealing with the brands but it was super rewarding. It was really touch and go as to whether we could even do it with all the protests in Hong Kong going on at the time. 

“In a way I didn’t believe in feminism growing up because I was a bit of a tomboy and my mum was the bread winner, so I just saw women as equal. But now, working in the bar industry, I see inequality in almost everything and it’s a much wider issue around the world.” 

Graham’s hard graft has attracted the interest of some of the industry’s biggest organisations and she now acts as Academy chair for The World’s 50 Best Bars and sits on the education committee for Tales of the Cocktail Foundation to grow awareness of health, wellbeing, equality and other such issues. 

“I’m taking on these roles because I really love being an advocate for Asia and I believe in the region. I don’t think it gets all the recognition it deserves so it’ll be good to get a greater representation at Tales.” 

Graham has achieved in six years what others in the drinks trade do in a career and she’s now working alongside many of the people she looked up to when she first joined the industry. 

“Sometimes I can’t actually believe I get to work with some of the people I admired for so long and I’m honoured to play a role in things like 50 Best and Tales, but at the same time I just want to keep doing what I’m doing and work hard at it.”