The fish-eating Mexican tiger who owes his career to bingo
Sitting for a chat with Ramón ‘El Tigre’ Ramos is an overwhelming experience. You ask him the first question, and next thing you know, he’s been speaking for 50 minutes. Editing the conversation was a nightmare, but we feel it was worth it: our friend Tigre is a Mexican cantinero with London experience, a pillar of our 2012 and 2016 Grand Prix Bar Team, and, at the moment, the owner of a very special restaurant. So here’s a small selection of the tales told by our man in Guadalajara.
Tending tables: Since 1948, Tigre’s family has been selling fish. His grandfather was one of the founders of the Mercado del Mar (Sea Market) in Zapopan, Guadalajra, from where they still operate. They added Los Barcos, a restaurant, almost twenty years ago, where Tigre got his start: “I was helping my father on the floor, cleaning tables. But it was just something I did because I had to, I felt no passion for it and wanted to study something else”.
London: Shortly after finishing high school, Tigre moved to the swinging city with money from a strange place. “Outside our school, they used to give coupons to go play bingo. Usually, I just went for the free drink, but one day I played and won. It was the exact amount needed to go to London, where I had some friends”. Once in town, Tigre found a job in a Michelin-starred Indian restaurant. The pay was poor: “I had to share a house with twelve other Mexican ‘tourists’. Some night, you could almost feel rats jumping over you”.
Barback: In spite of the rogue rodents, Tigre stayed in London. One day, the bartender at the restaurant was sick and Tigre, although he didn’t know the first thing about cocktails, passed behind the bar. From then on, he would assist as a barback. Later, he managed to score a job at Aura, an exclusive Member’s Club on Picadilly: “I knew 14 drinks then, and I thought I was a bartender but I saw the guys at Aura stirring Mojitos and shaking Kamikazes at the same time. I realized how much I had to learn”.
Cocktails: While at Aura, Tigre discovered the burgeoning London scene and became a regular at Lab. After working with him at a Havana Club event, Dre Masso offered him a spot on the opening team of Salvador & Amanda, with a young Ago Perrone. “I was told I had to decide if I wanted to be a sexy bartender doing flair or if I wanted to learn about the science behind it. That’s when I started to study the balance of the drinks”. After over three years in London, Tigre headed home and studied gastronomy for a while. But he was soon back in London where he landed a dream job at Lab. Willing to further his education, he enrolled at a local gastronomy school and supported himself working at Green & Red, Masso and Henry Besant’s tequila bar, and Trailer Happiness. “I’d finish at 2 am and had to wake up at 6 am. At one point, I was also making dozens of sandwiches for Prêt-à-Manger”.
Olmeca Altos: Once his student visa expired after 5 years, Tigre decided to head back home and immerse himself in his father’s restaurant. By then, he had been working for a while on events organized by StrangeHill, Henry Besant’s consulting business. Besant was a real mentor for Tigre. He had visited him in Mexico and helped him to pay part of his university fees. Some of the events Tigre worked on involved Olmeca Altos, the tequila brand Besant developed with Pernod Ricard. He would later become the brand’s global ambassador.
Mexico: When Tigre went to London, the Mexican cocktail scene was non-existent. Over the last couple of years, this has changed, mostly in Mexico City. In Guadalajara, where he is based, there’s still a lot of work to do. Since stepping down from his role at Olmeca Altos, Tigre has been focusing on the restaurant: “Here, everyone drinks beer so we don’t make cocktails. I’m spending most of my time in the kitchen or sourcing produce. But I’d like to open another restaurant, a bit fancier with a proper bar.”
Tigre: We’ve had to leave out a lot of anecdotes from this story. But to close this article, we need at least him to answer one last question: why the Tigre (tiger) nickname? “At the Mercado del Mar, we always use the same clothes – they smell of fish, so once we go back home, we leave them outside, take a bath and change. Our work’s clothes, we call them ‘garras’ – claws. And because everyone’s coming everyday with the same ‘claws’, we call each other ‘tigres’”. A fish-eating, cocktail mixing, tequila drinking tiger: a rare sort of beast, this Ramón Ramos…