When Anchor & Den first opened at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort, it was a revelation. The tired lobby of the hotel that once was had been replaced by a chic open space complete with live DJ and apothecary cocktails.
Gary Mandabon has been one of the driving forces behind those cocktails served at Anchor & Den’s lively bar. His mixology skills have been honed after years in the business, much to the appreciation of regular patrons and fans.
Gary was born in Bislig City, Southern Philippines and officially started his bartending career in 2013 at Fairmont The Palm, Dubai. It was his first job in the business after completing a degree in hospitality.
“I worked at a couple of standalone restaurants with amazing bar programs,” he says. “One place even had a laboratory where we mixed culinary techniques with our bar program using sous vide and a rotary evaporator to incorporate different flavors and aromas.”
In 2016, Gary finally decided it was time for a change of scenery from the Middle East. He moved to the Cayman Islands and began working at Anchor & Den, where he has remained ever since.
“What I like about working here is the freedom that I have in making something particular for a guest,” he says. “We have a great bar program that is focused on quality ingredients for better drinks.”
Gary likes experimenting with ingredients and giving each client a unique experience. He also likes the social aspect of the job, meeting different people from around the world and learning about their cultures.
He enjoys passing on his knowledge about spirits, and explaining the difference between high and low quality versions of liquors and liqueurs, particularly to those who may have had a bad experience with substandard cocktails due to cheap spirits.
When asked what tool he couldn’t do without, he says that his jigger tops the list. “Some bartenders and even guests see this as unprofessional, but I always go for quality and consistency in terms of drinks,” he says. “If you are in a high-end bar, the bartender often uses a jigger, not just for measurement, but for working flair and finesse in making a drink.
“In the end, we are creating art in the form of liquid spirits.”