Agung Prabowo: Tending from the heart

Agung Prabowo is described as “one of the nicest people in bartending” in his bio for Drinks International’s Bar World 100 and his infectious smile transmits even across a Zoom call outside his new Dead& bar in central Hong Kong.

From humble beginnings as a busboy in Jakarta, Prabowo gave up his studies to work full time in hospitality and was set on a career behind the bar.

“I felt like it was something I really wanted to do, but of course back in those days in Indonesia bartending was a bit of a taboo,” says Prabowo. “The majority of the country is Muslim so I had to convince my parents not to stop me and that I would become really good, and today they are proud of me.”

Back in 2005, while working for the Mandarin Oriental in Jakarta, Prabowo earned the opportunity to help open the company’s new hotel in Honk Kong.

“They sent me to Hong Kong for one month and when they offered an extension I took it because I’d never worked abroad. Now it’s been more than 15 years and I love the diversity and culture of Hong Kong so much.”

Following the successful launch, Prabowo went on to work at other top hotel bars, including Shangri-La’s Lobster Bar & Grill, which came 18th in The World’s 50 Best Bars in 2015, making him one of the region’s top bar managers. 

However, it wasn’t until 2017 that the Indonesian decided to launch his own bar called The Old Man Hong Kong, inspired by the travels of American novelist Ernest Hemingway. Remarkably, a er just two years it was crowned Asia’s Best Bar.

“I never wanted to be rushed into anything,” added Prabowo. “A er the success of Lobster Bar I had many offers to open bars but I knew it had to be right for me and with the right people.”

Prabowo followed up this huge success with the launch of The Sea by The Old Man HK, another bar named a er Hemingway’s Pulitzer-winning novel. However, less than a year later he and co-founder Roman Ghale shocked Asia’s bar scene by branching away to set up two new venues with their wives in late 2020 – Penicillin and Dead&.

Penicillin was recently awarded the Sustainable Bar Award in Asia’s 50 Best Bars and is attempting to be the first closed-loop bar in Hong Kong. This means not only recycling and up-cycling ingredients, but also minimising waste, reducing the bar’s carbon footprint and sourcing produce locally and seasonally.

“We were seeing a lot of waste in the industry and we wanted to do something for our families, not just making money but helping the environment, which was the inspiration for Penicillin. We actually opened Dead& just one week a er Penicillin because so many bars were closing down last year due to the pandemic, so we took the opportunity of good rent.”