My mother was a single mother who emigrated from Colombia in 1975 when she was pregnant with me. I was born in London, so I was the first generation BC in the family. She was an au pair but also worked in restaurants and bars on the weekends and during that time she often took me with her, so I grew up with the industry.
After working in members’ clubs washing glasses and changing ashtrays when he was 15, Masso also worked in a cocktail bar in Richmond, which led to him moving to central London and to work in Soho at 18. It was then that he was introduced to the Atlantic. Bar & Grill, where he spent four years alongside owner and restaurateur Oliver Peyton, helping to open Mash & Air in Manchester and the Coast restaurant along the way. Masso says, “That was, I guess, the foundation of what led me to follow this career. It was crucial and important because they had cocktail training, and I don’t think many other places had that at the time.
“It was quite a revolutionary move in London, especially the transition from using sweeter, prepared liqueurs and sugars to people trying their hand and starting to use premium ingredients and fresh produce. There were also people like Dick Bradsell, who was the godfather of the London cocktail scene. So from the Atlantic and throughout my career, it’s always been about who I can work with or where I can work and gain experience.
Masso started his career when pre-measured drinks weren’t as common and everything was made to order, fresh, the same day. The industry has seen a change over the past 30 years, as Masso says: “From the Atlantic, I opened a place called the 10 Room, from there I went to work at the Lab Bar. It was a very important bar for London, it represented the London Academy of Bartending and had a long list of 150 cocktails at a time when we weren’t making or pre-serving drinks which is now a more method running so you can get the drinks out faster and more consistently. We did everything fresh, all the cocktails, we didn’t really sell anything else, so it was always busy and great fun.
Entering the world of tequila in 2003, Masso met Julio Bermejo, the tequila ambassador to the United States. After tasting 100% agave and good quality tequila, he began to fall in love with the subject. Masso says, “I worked with him a bit in San Francisco at a place called Tommy’s, the home of Tommy’s Margarita, the mecca of tequila and a family business. He’s the person who probably knows more about tequila than anyone, so after some time with him in San Francisco and Mexico, I thought to myself, “cool, this must be part of my life”.
“In 2004 I started a company called The Worldwide Cocktail Club with Henry Besant, who passed away today. In 2005 we opened a tequila place called Green & Red and it was in many ways a tribute to what I had seen in San Francisco It was tequila cocktails, a big list of agaves and food from the area where tequila is made and we also wrote a book called daisy rocks This year.”
The duo then entered into conversations with Pernod Ricard about co-creating a new tequila, which was launched in 2009. say ‘let’s involve some bartenders’. So everything for us was about cocktails and creating good quality, affordable tequila that we could use in cocktails. Olmeca Altos is currently the seventh largest tequila according to International Drinksit is Millionaires Club.
Masso’s next big step was working with Potato Head in 2010, then moving to Indonesia in 2013. amazing and all thanks to founder Ronald Akili. He was someone who was unfamiliar with the hospitality industry, but had this entrepreneurial drive to do things in a different way and with great style.
“What also came out of it was this strong philosophy of sustainability. I know it’s a word people like to use and they talk about using fewer straws but if you look at what they’re doing it really represents better behavior in their business supporting the community and making an impact positive. I was very lucky to be in this circle and to learn from it.
Masso adds: “I wrote another book in 2015 called Classic cocktails at home, which is to prepare drinks in your kitchen. My stay at the Atlantic was very important not only because of the premium product, but To classify magazine had just started and there were hardly any cocktail books.
In 2017, Masso had moved to Colombia to connect with his heritage. “I recognized that although the Colombian bar scene was lagging behind the rest of the world, it was growing quite quickly and I wanted to see if I could help or be a part of it, as well as connect with my homeland and my family. and understand their native ingredients.
“Over the past 20 years, I had a good relationship with Eric Yu, he has the Breakfast group. I always came back and helped him with various things. Eric whom I love – he’s been in the business for over 30 years and many of his bars have been around for 15, 20 years and that kind of lifespan is unique in this industry.
Highs and lows
“Right now, opening Bell & Viv is a huge challenge. I think people are more aware and drinking in a different way, the whole shape of the week seems to be different with people only working until Thursday, Friday doesn’t feel like it used to. I don’t mean to sound negative, I stay positive about it, what it does is it makes you see a storyline in a different way.
“There were other challenges. I opened quite a few bars in Asia and there were cultural differences – having to learn how certain peoples, cultures and nationalities behave and how we relate to each other.
Travel has been central to Masso’s career. “I traveled the world with Altos and there are two passions there, the passion for tequila but also the passion for travel. It is without a doubt the most inspiring thing for me. In this incredible industry, there is this unique connection no matter where you go. I now live outside of London and have a 10 year old daughter, so I try to spend as much time as possible with her. Another passion is anything on two wheels, so bicycles, motorcycles – I never complain about a motorcycle ride.
Masso’s new bar, Bell & Viv, named after the children of his two close friends, has an aperitif-style light bar and cafe upstairs, and The Drinks Trolley downstairs, which will operate like a more sophisticated cocktail lounge at night. Masso says of the inspiration for the bar, “I did all the decor here, it was by accident. I foolishly fell in love with these chairs, mid century British made and lower than normal chair height. I was struggling with a table that would go with them and sat down at home with one of those drink carts and figured it might work if I took the wheels off.
“I was born in the 70s, especially for me it’s quite nostalgic, with artwork from the house I was raised in. Drink carts were popular in the 70s so there are a few key things to nod in that direction and the cocktails we make here are based on drinks from the 70s which is probably one of the worst eras for cocktails – but we remix them to make them special, more delicious and less sweet and sticky.
Masso also gets a makeover Classic cocktails at home. “I extend it and I translate it into Spanish. I spent a lot of time in Latin America and I feel very connected to that part of the world and it feels like everything is in English. I would also like to do something that represents Gran Colombia. There is so much beauty that people don’t know about and a lot of negative connotations with Colombia as a country, so I want to show it in a positive light. That, to me, is another dream.