Keith Motsi has carved a truly unique path through the hospitality industry. Having been born in Zimbabwe and raised in Leeds, UK, he now finds himself at the reins of one of Asia’s top luxury hotel bars.
“I started working at Jake’s Bar in Leeds, which is an institution,” says Motsi. “I began collecting glasses at the weekends before I was old enough to serve alcohol and even then I knew hospitality seemed the industry for me.”
Motsi did attempt an alternative path when he moved to London to study architecture at university, which he describes as the “best worst mistake” he’s ever made.
“I discovered Trailer Happiness and that was the end of my university career. I basically never turned up.”
However, having spent some time training under Arc Inspirations in the north of England, he eventually landed a job at the original Soho House on Greek Street.
“That was fun man,” says Motsi. “It was my first taste of luxury but it was relaxed at the same time. But working in a members’ bar, I wasn’t very well known in the industry.
“To be honest, I always wanted to work at a traditional five-star hotel in London, but I found it very cliquey. It was all about who you know and I’d be constantly rejected immediately without any feedback.”
After taking a break to travel South America with a friend, Motsi found himself in Bermuda for the America’s Cup where, during a tour of Gosling’s Distillery, he received a phone call that would shape his career. That call was from Proof & Company’s Chris Lowder about a new project in Asia.
Motsi adds: “A couple of weeks later I rang him back because I knew I’d agreed to something but I couldn’t remember what. When I heard Beijing I wasn’t keen, but it was either move back to Leeds with my parents or go for it. For me you have to take risks, and deal with the problems after.”
Motsi’s first role with Proof & Company was in the Four Seasons in Beijing to work at Equis and he’s now been with the company for five years.
“I felt super welcomed in Beijing and I had a great time, but after a couple of years I got the chance to work at Charles H in Seoul, which I couldn’t refuse. People queue for hours to get a seat at Charles H. We’re a true destination bar, which is pretty cool. This is why I think in the UK our education is shortsighted, because hospitality isn’t considered a long-term career, but here I am working for an amazing company with huge benefits.”
Under Motsi’s stewardship the bar has become a central figure in Asia’s 50 Best Bars, and this year he was voted the Altos Bartenders’ Bartender as part of the 2022 edition of Asia’s 50 Best.
“That one wasn’t expected because Mark (Sansom, director of content for 50 Best Bars) called me up and I told him he ought to do a recount. It really means so much coming from my industry peers.”
In modern bartending it’s become important to have a trademark – something quirky or unique about personal appearance. For Motsi it’s his red jacket. “It’s a nice jacket huh? They don’t come cheap either. I was wearing it in Beijing and I thought I’d bring it here too.”
However, while Motsi is fast becoming one of Asia’s top bartenders and thriving on the main stage of hospitality, there are parts of his upbringing in the UK which he craves today.
“I grew up in Yorkshire playing rugby and I wanted to be Richie McCaw. But now that we’ve emerged from the pandemic I want to start playing again with the ex-pats out here – it’s full-on contact, there’s no messing around.”
And, while he serves luxury drinks on a daily basis, the simple pleasures are also sorely missed. “I miss a good pint of bitter and a Greggs sausage role, and being able to get two G&Ts for £10,” adds Motsi with a cheeky grin.