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Bartender in Residence

Napier Bulanan’s Cocktails Go Heavy on Nostalgia

July 18, 2022

Story: Chloe Frechette

photo: Carolyn Fong

Bartender in Residence

Napier Bulanan’s Cocktails Go Heavy on Nostalgia

July 18, 2022

Story: Chloe Frechette

photo: Carolyn Fong

Informed by Filipino hospitality, the Oakland bartender makes drinks that are “a love letter to my culture.”

“My cocktails are really just a love letter to my culture,” says Napier Bulanan. For the Filipina American, this means not only drawing on flavors from her family’s homeland—the savory spice of adobo, the sweet creaminess of pinipig—letting nayanaya, a term that translates to the act of entertaining guests and the enjoyment derived from doing so, inform her drinks. 

“Hospitality is just ingrained in our culture,” explains Bulanan, bartender at Viridian in Oakland, California. “It doesn’t matter how far removed you are, generationally speaking, from your Filipino roots, it’s still an inherently Filipino value to just be a gracious host, to make sure everyone who comes in is taken care of.”

Bulanan translates this notion into her drinks by way of their inherent approachability. “I want my drinks to not intimidate people,” she says. But that doesn’t mean they want for complexity. Her Suplada Spritz, for example, pulls in layers of unexpected flavors to the recognizable Negroni Sbagliato blueprint thanks to a chile-garlic shrub inspired by the sour-sweet nature of adobo, a Filipino dish consisting of braised meat marinated in vinegar and soy sauce. “I like to draw on my own lived experiences,” explains Bulanan. “I lean heavy on nostalgia.”

Despite reflecting a deeply personal point of view, Bulanan’s cocktails are designed to draw others in—not only to her world, but to a community she hopes to foster through hospitality. “I’m gonna make sure that I’m engaging with every single guest at the bar and creating this very welcoming space,” she explains. “I want you to come back and I want you to feel comfortable; I want you to feel like you’re part of this now, too.”

Recipe

Suplada Spritz

A Filipino Adobo-inspired take on the Negroni Sbagliato.

Recipe

Tita Nita’s Milk Punch

A clarified milk punch made with Aquavit and lambanog, a palm liquor.

Recipe

Sige Na

Aged Filipino rum and pandan syrup come together in this simple stirred drink.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
Pull back from all the work regularly to recharge yourself.

Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
A skinny White Russian. Like, what?

Best drink you’ve ever had:
Francisco Carranza at [Oakland bar] Viridian made a cocktail called El Puente for a competition, and it had a kombu-infused and coconut oil-washed mezcal, shiso, yuzu and a shio koji–salt rim—and it put the biggest smile on my face when I tried it. It had body, flavor, and balance. 

Your favorite classic cocktail:
The Negroni. It’s perfect for when the weather is warm; it’s perfect for when the weather is cold.

Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
My Suplada Spritz is probably the wildest thing I’ve tried so far.

The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
Celebrity brands. I would much rather we push brands that focus on quality, sustainability and equity. Let’s elevate spirits made by BIPOC and queer makers, spirits from different cultures. Let’s expand the palates of our guests instead of keeping them in their comfort zones. There are so many good things out there that we have never tried—we are denying ourselves a good time.

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