The Art Of The After-Dinner Drink
The Rake’s Mr Wei Koh schools us in the places to enjoy your late-night tipple
As editor-in-chief and founder of influential men’s style magazine The Rake, Mr Wei Koh has a certain reputation – or rather, archetype – to live up to. But he doesn’t seem to find it terribly difficult. In fact, there’s a wonderfully effortless quality to Mr Koh’s rakishness, an attitude of appealing largesse that’s as evident in his breezy eloquence as in his razor-sharp, yet playful sense of style. If you weren’t already aware that he’s led a somewhat colourful life – he worked as a ranch hand in Montana and a director’s assistant in Hollywood before launching his publishing empire in the mid-2000s – you would certainly guess it from the sprawling, associative range of his conversation, the knowing twinkle in his eye. Clearly he’s a man who, in the best sense possible, knows how to have a good time.
MR PORTER meets Mr Koh in a suitably convivial environment, the Punch Room of London’s Edition hotel, to discuss a suitably Mr Koh-esque pursuit: the taking of after-dinner drinks. As you might expect, it’s a topic on which he’s rather well versed.
“I think the tradition of the after-dinner drink is simultaneously a physical thing and a sociological thing,” he says. “From a physical perspective, everything that you drink after dinner is supposed to aid your digestion – which is basically just an excuse to drink more. From a sociological perspective, it gives you the possibility to find an intimacy with other people that you might have identified during dinner.”
Clearly, it’s the latter half of this equation that tends to capture his imagination. In fact, for Mr Koh, the after-dinner drink often offers not just a continuation of a good evening, but the opportunity to curate it that little bit more. “A lot of times throughout the day, we don’t get to choose what we’re doing,” he says. “But you get to choose everything related to an after-dinner drink. The drinks; the company; the setting. That is incredibly empowering.”
As Voltaire – and Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben – once said, with great power comes great responsibility. So how do you put together a perfect after-dinner scenario? In Mr Koh’s opinion, the people should be those who with “fathoms of character lurking beneath the surface”. When it comes to the venue, what you’re looking for is “intimacy”. And the conversation? Thoroughly uncensored: “The after-dinner drinks period is about everything that you couldn’t talk about before at dinner. There’s no point trying to be politically correct or sociologically correct, or to try to hide anything about your character. You should be able to talk about anything, even the most intimate things.”
When it comes to the drinks themselves, Mr Koh says it very much depends on the geographical location and, of course, what you’ve just eaten. A light drink – a gin and tonic for example – will work better in warmer climates, and following delicately flavoured dishes such as sushi. If you’ve been enjoying richer food (and need a bit of a pick-me-up), or are indulging in a cigar, a whisky is better. As a drink that works for most situations, Mr Koh recommends a gin martini (made with extremely cold Monkey 47 Gin, slightly dirty) but he also says “there’s nothing wrong with continuing the evening with champagne”.
Of course, sadly, it all has to end at some point. There are only so many hours in the day, after all. So where do you draw the line? “I sort of subscribe to that whole philosophy of the roads of excess leading to the palace of wisdom,” admits Mr Koh. Accordingly, he tries not to keep too close an eye on the time unless it’s a weekday. “I think that you know innately when it’s time to call it a night or morning,” he says. Nonetheless, if you are the kind of person that likes to keep to a tighter schedule, he has a suggestion. “One thing I always do, which is a bit of a trick, is I never check the time on my own watch, because I feel it’s a bit gauche. I always look at the time on someone else’s watch. Often, I’m admiring their timepiece – invariably the people that I have drinks with have great taste in watches.”
Mr Wei Koh wears an IWC Schaffhausen Portugieser Chronograph 40.9mm
The best places for after dinner drinks
The Gritti Palace has been around since 1475, and so combines its sumptuous interiors and excellent location with a mind-boggling history. Its Bar Longhi has a cosy interior decorated with Murano glass lights and 18th-century paintings, as well as a canalside terrace that can be used in warm weather. “It’s a tiny bar, as it should be,” says Mr Koh. “A great after dinner drink place should be small.”
Another diminutive bar that packs a considerable aesthetic punch, this iconic venue was completed in 1908 and designed by pioneering modernist architect Mr Adolf Loos – a contemporary of Messrs Egon Schiele, Sigmund Freud and Arnold Schoenberg and one of the men who made Vienna one of the most important cultural hubs of the 20th century. Today, it’s stark, pared-down geometry powerfully conjures those heady days of artistic rebellion. Plus, it’s tiny enough to feel exclusive, says Mr Koh. “I think you can only sit maybe 15 people in the entire bar.”
Since it opened in the 1970s, Mark’s has been known as one of the most exclusive clubs in London, and is beloved by its members for its incredibly welcoming, home-like feel. “Go sit at the bar on the second floor, or go out into the terrace and smoke a cigar with a friend,” says Mr Koh. “It’s the balm that heals your soul, you know?”