As the sun sets over the ocean in front of Bali’s chic Potato Head Beach Club, Leo Boys and Anya Montague place the finishing touches on their creations. A pink beach umbrella, whipped cream, a slice of orange and some ‘edible sand’ – actually crushed biscuits – accompany the bright-blue Hi Life rum cocktails. The couple, who call themselves the Travelling Bartenders, believe the name of the cocktail perfectly sums up what their life has become.
Both from England, they have spent the past couple of years working in bars around the world and helping set up new venues. Twenty-two-year-old Boys began bartending in clubs four years ago and met Montague, now 21, when he hired her to work in a small cocktail bar in his home town of Brighton while she was doing her teaching degree there.
Montague had travelled extensively with her family as a child, even living in a yoga ashram in India for a few months when she was eight years old. On a trip to Borneo, she’d tried her hand at making cocktails for guests at a small resort, but it was Boys’s passion for concocting new mixes that really drew her to a career that is about as far away from blackboards as you can get. “Seeing someone so passionate about making drinks is magnetic,” she says. “It awoke a fire in me to be the best I could be.”
Boys started altering the roster each week to ensure they had the same shifts, giving him time to work his charms and teach her the tricks of the trade. During the coming months love blossomed. Boys, however, had already committed to a job in Hawaii, helping set up Tiki Iniki on the north shore of the island of Kauai for musician Todd Rundgren and his wife Michele. “I was heartbroken when I had to leave Anya at the airport,” he says. “I was meant to open the bar with two friends of mine from London, but they had a mix-up with their visas and couldn’t come so I went it alone at first.
“Anya always planned to come out, so in the end I asked the owner if I could hire her again and she said yes. She flew out a week a later. Somewhere down the line we decided to just stay on the road – we haven’t looked back since.”
The couple started a blog on Tumblr (www.travellingbartenderslog.tumblr.com) to document their travels. Originally about them, it now features bartenders from all the corners of the globe, the amazing places they work and the incredible creations they concoct.
As well as the bar in Hawaii, Boys travelled to Puerto Rico with Don Q Rum last year for a distillery tour and the couple spent a few months travelling around Thailand – doing “research and development” in a lot of Bangkok bars – before arriving in Bali last October. Montague clearly remembers the first time she entered the doors at Potato Head: “You walk through this huge colosseum made from vintage Balinese shutters into an incredible metropolis of bars, restaurants, beds, an infinity pool, the beach and the most incredible pink, purple and red sunsets.”
They then helped Potato Head owners Ronald Akili and Jason Gunawan set up a new concept in Jakarta, doing a few guest shifts at the Potato Head brasserie there, before heading to Singapore for another new project with the same people and the occasional night behind the bar at 28 Hongkong Street.
Employers have come to see them as a package deal and are attracted to their energy and creativity. “We like using interesting flavours, fresh ingredients and quality spirits and we don’t like using stuff that’s not necessary,” Boys says. “It’s all about using what’s local – the drinks are always inspired by where we are. Anya made this unreal caramelised banana puree in Bali and we used it to make a bourbon milkshake.”
Sometimes it’s not just the drinks attracting attention, with the couple admitting the clientele will often sit at the bar intently watching them work together. “Leo will be pouring rum into my tin while I put straws into the drink he’s just made,” Montague says. “Sometimes I hear him call my name and without thinking I know to step back and suddenly there’s dragon fire blowing past my nose!”
While there are certainly times when the duo misses home, Boys admits he loves being able to live in warmer climates and experience amazing countries. “You get a lot of inside knowledge from staff about places, and bartenders in Asia are so grateful for giving them new skill sets and helping them improve,” he says. “It’s really satisfying seeing them grow.”
On the research trip to Thailand, the couple also spent a few days relaxing on an island in the north called Koh Mak. “We saw maybe five other tourists the whole time we were there,” Montague says. “It was how you imagine the Thai islands back in the early 90s. But don’t tell anyone.”
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing during their travels. They ran out of cash in Hawaii and had to go for around a month with little money for food. “We literally lived off the land,” Boys says. “I learned to bake bread and Anya picked kale and fruit – basically whatever we could find. At the time it sucked, but now, looking back on it, it was so much fun. I have fond memories of foraging on the Garden Island.”
Also not entirely idyllic was the very un-touristy market Boys found himself in at the end of the train line in Bangkok. Nobody spoke English and there were animals being slaughtered everywhere. “The poor guy spent the day dodging puddles of blood and overly keen lady boys,” Montague says.
Taking an easy-going approach to money and plans, Boys and Montague nevertheless can’t see themselves returning to the UK any time soon. “We could end up working for Potato Head at one of their new ventures, or setting up a gin bar in the Himalayas,” Montague says. “Who knows?”