2015 Boston Rising Star Bartender Ran Duan of Baldwin Bar of The Baldwin Bar

2015 Boston Rising Star Bartender Ran Duan of Baldwin Bar of The Baldwin Bar
March 2015

If mixology street cred tends to be earned by working one’s way up from barback at an acclaimed urban cocktail temple, Ran Duan is a serious exception to the rule. Proprietor of The Baldwin at Sichuan Garden II, Duan was born in the Sichuan Province, and earned his stripes—and a lot of instant national attention—behind the bar of the family restaurant in Woburn, Massachusetts.

Moving to the States before he was 10, Duan found himself in Brookline, where his parents opened their first spot, Sichuan Garden, in 1994. By 2009, Duan was 22 and graduating from Johnson & Wales with a degree in hospitality. It may not have been his original plan, but he ended up back in the family business, landing behind the bar at Sichuan Garden II, a converted three-story mansion built in 1661. There, Duan honed his mixing craft and style, eventually hired his crew, and began The Baldwin Bar.

If the house already had acclaim, Duan brought more. By 26, he earned a mention in Gaz Regan’s “Annual Manual for Bartenders,” and by 27, he was consulting on bar programs for restaurants and spirits companies, hosting culinary-cocktail pop-ups, and working a hot streak in the competition circuit. Duan was recently the winner of Bacardi’s 2015 Legacy USA Cocktail competition, as well as the 2014 USA Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender—a title that also got him on the cover of GQ magazine as one of the men of the year. Later this year, Duan will represent the United States in the global finals of the Bacardi Legacy and Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender competition.

Interview with Boston Rising Star Bartender Ran Duan of Baldwin Bar

Caroline Hatchett: How did The Baldwin Bar come about?
Ran Duan: 
The bar came out of necessity. After graduating from Johnson and Wales in 2009, I moved back home to help my parents out and at the time the economic downturn just happened. So, I took over the bar here, and in the beginning it was super tacky, typical Chinese food cocktail drinks. Slowly it evolved into this. We hired Joel two years ago; Van one and a half years ago; and Charles five months ago. We’ve been super lucky and blessed. This is a mom and pop restaurant, and for us to grow like this—we’ve been really fortunate.

CH: Can you tell me a little about this space, Sichuan Garden II?
The house was built in 1661. My parents took over and opened the restaurant 12 years ago. I took over the bar five years ago. We’ve been pretty successful, so we want to expand upstairs; it’s currently a ballroom that holds 80 to 90 people. When we’re done, we’ll have about 40 seats. We’re planning on each bartender having their own menu for their own section of the restaurant. A lot of people from out of town and in Boston come out here. The cocktail menu changes every three weeks, based on season and what we feel like making. It reflects what we want to drink at the time. The four of us will collaborate, and I think people will really dig it. We like to keep one classic on each menu and run with the rest.

We do 40 to 50 reservations on weekends. We try to let walk-ins in as much as possible. Sometimes we’ll seat them in the dining room, where they have access to the entire menu, but it’s definitely a different vibe. A waitress will come in and say that a customer wants something like this and this and we’ll work with them to come up with something for them. The interaction is the best part; you’re really putting on a show. Every now and then we’ll get locals looking for a regular local bar and we have to get them acquainted with what we’re doing. We’ve worked very hard to make everyone feel like they’re welcome.

CH: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
I’m an avid competitor. We don’t have big budgets here, so every competition I win is great exposure for us. I did the Bombay Sapphire [Imaginative Bartender competition] and have two coming up. The Unites States Bartenders’ Guild, were avid members, we always go to meetings. 

CH: What's your five-year plan?
I have a few projects in mind, a couple projects. I’m definitely looking to expand. One of our goals here is to pair our food with the cocktails. I was having oxtail and tripe with mezcal and it was fantastic. So I thought, "How can I work this into our program?"

CH: How do you describe your mixing philosophy?
RD: Our mantra here is the first ingredient in a great cocktail is hospitality.