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Nicolas Fraile: The Creative Mind Behind 4 of KL’s Popular Bars

We’ve had the pleasure of talking with Nicolas Fraile (Nico) at one of the Inndustry Mondays at Paloma by Ascaro. Nico told us about his exciting FnB journey in Malaysia as we watched Padel games get heated and enjoyed cold refreshing cocktails in the open air at the rooftop of 1Utama.
Running 4 bars in KL: Pisco, Concubine, XO KL and Paloma, Nico keeps the creative game fresh throughout the years and we’re here to tell you all about it!

What made you get into this industry? Has it always been the plan?
Nico, coming from a different background in engineering and business explains how he feels as if he was dragged into this industry in a good way, with bars and socialising being a huge part of his lifestyle and culture, he says “ I’m a business consultant by profession and nightlifer by devotion.” 

How did you get into this business or as you’d put it “dragged”?
It all started back when Nico moved  to Malaysia and met his Malaysian wife who had been established in the FnB business and owned a restaurant in Changkat which was the first FnB project the couple had worked on together. “And then I went full on” Nico added, “and when you go full on you start wanting to shape a bar according to your personality” That was the initial thought of opening a bar-driven place that was modded according to Nico’s delightful personality. “Pisco is my first initiative” 
Pisco, a colourful and successful bar in Bukit Bintang, has opened its doors back in 2013 and is going on its 11th anniversary in February next year! 

What was the inspiration behind Pisco? 
The story behind Pisco’s beautiful concept is not one to miss. Here’s what Nico told us about the meaning behind its name and logo. “Pisco is the name of a drink from Peru in South America, a white brandy from Peruvian grapes and it also refers to the region where it was originated”. It’s is a very famous drink and is used in most Peruvian cocktails like the Pisco Sour. “The Monkey logo is to keep ties with Peru” Nico continues to relay the story behind the artwork being a huge cultural representation of Peru. Pisco’s logo was derived from one of the most popular historical arts of Peru, The Nazca Lines (Peru’s popular Geoglyphs) which were drawn by Nazca people more than 2000 years ago. Some believed it to have been a method to connect with the heavens where some of those lines marked certain trade areas and were old pilgrimage routes. Pisco has been recognised as one of Malaysia’s Top30 Bars for year 2022.

Emerging food & culture in one place
Nico expressed how serving authentic Peruvian food at Pisco was as important as the Peruvian cocktails. The food menu at Pisco was originally curated by a Peruvian chef including essential highlights from the colourful cuisine in addition to highlights from the Peruvian-Japanese cuisine, Nikkei.

DJ Night at Pisco

Nico’s vision for Pisco was to make it on the Latin-oriented side as well. Nico’s Spanish side is clearly infused into the feel of the place; coming from a very social culture, he told us they like to eat standing up and enjoy socialising and going from table to table. “A culture of Sharing “ he says. Pisco was made for socialising and connecting and is designed in a way that allows everyone to mingle. Then Nico explained how he doesn’t want Pisco to be predictable; alternating between party nights and DJs and other forms of fun like bringing in live bands and setting up screens for movie nights.

Concubine KL

Immersing creativity into the bar scene
“Carbon copy is not my style “ not wanting to expand in a corporate way, Nico’s next step into the bar scene of Malaysia was Concubine. He told us how he prefers to keep it colourful and new. “The theme comes hand in hand with the location.”
In Concubine, he explained, its heritage gives the feel of the beautiful 20s era having been an old Chinese house more than 100 years ago. “I didn’t want to approach the Chinese feel of the bar from the perspective of the past. I wanted to make it a bit more current.”  Which is reflected in Concubine’s decorations and how it displays this contrast of times, Nico says: “The colours and neon lights brings a bit of this contemporary element while being respectful of the heritage.”
Concubine is also one of Malaysia’s Top30 Bars for year 2022 and has won other awards like: Martell Top Stand Out Bar Of The Year, Chivas Regal Top Bar Of The Year & Malaysia’s Top30 People’s Choice Award.

XO KL

What’s the story behind XO? 
Wanting to set the tune higher figuratively and literally from blasting the music in Chinatown to endless dancing nights that’s how XO came to be. Nico said he noticed how people would come to Concubine for drinks and dinner and then continue the night clubbing elsewhere outside of the neighbourhood. He says: “Something was missing in Chinatown” that’s where XO came in to fill in that gap. Concubine is where everyone goes for dinner and drinks and XO is their place to jump into party mode afterwards. It completes Concubine in a way but it’s a completely different feel.

Paloma by Ascaro

Nico’s recent endeavour
Paloma is a social bar where people can play Padel and enjoy delicious food and cocktails, its open space on the rooftop of 1Utama makes a lovely event space. Nico explained how the concept of Play, Drink and Socialise is very popular in Europe where people who enjoy light spirits and tonics would go out for drinks early in the evening whereas most bar goers would go later at night for the heavier drinks. It’s totally dependent on the person’s schedule and preference. That’s where Paloma comes in serving both day and night drinkers. 

How do you handle managing all these amazing places?
“It’s always a team effort.” Coordinating with respective partners at every place and being present as much as I can. “and I’m always on WhatsApp”. Being in this business requires a lot of problem solving, it’s an ever-evolving process and it’s very personal. “You’re always thinking of your businesses and coming up with ideas to try out and keep it fresh.” He continues “I’m a creative person. I need to be involved.”

How do you keep up with the trend? What marketing strategy do you follow to keep it New?
“Initially with Pisco and Concubine, marketing was my main area of responsibility where I did it myself for a long time. Always looking out for trends from Europe and elsewhere. Later on we had a media agency to handle the execution side of it from the marketing manager and team of graphic designers.” He explained the importance of exploring any suggested idea, internally or externally, and trying to build creativity around personal style and preference.
He then added “I attend religiously all the meetings that are marketing related in all the venues.” “It’s not an area i can let go of.”

How do you go about the training of your Staff?
That hasn’t been my area, my partners are in the operation side of things. My training style is more focused on the culture. “At Pisco there are customers who came back after 6 years from overseas and the team at Pisco still remembers their drink.” He says “Creating a feel that you’re a part of a social club rather than just a bar”

What advice would you give to new FnB owners?
“Try to do a place that represents who you are. If it doesn’t come from within it wouldn’t last.” He added “It’s about making a personalised venue that is attached to you.” 
Another advice from Nico “When someone comes up with an idea, whether it’s internal or external, try to explore it. Maybe it’s an idea that you’re not keen on but with different kinds of angles it may work” so stay open to reshaping.

What’s a quote you heard and was stuck with you?
Nico’s favourite quote is actually a customer’s review for Pisco.
It says: “Pisco is a place where you walk in as a stranger and walk it as a friend.” Nico added “This kind of reviews really tells you you’re going in the right direction”

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