Fat Dragon bartender Kabo Kgang is what we in the industry call a “lifer,” but his story is more unique than most. Originally from Johannesburg & Cape Town, South Africa, Kgang’s grandmother owned a shebeen which he recalls fondly as a space for “community - where everyone is like family.”
Kabo’s last 10 years in food service has brought him up and down the East Coast, from Philadelphia to New York, eventually settling in Virginia in 2012(?). This week, we stop by Fat Dragon to talk craft, celebrating local, and South African moonshine with Richmond’s friendliest bartender this side of the Boulevard.
Interview: Kabo Kgang
Why choose to make your home in Richmond?
I visited a friend here in 2011 when I was living in New York and fell in love right away. It’s incredible to me that you can be in heart of the city one minute, and climbing a rock wall by the river the next.
Tell us more about your childhood and how you got your start in the service industry.
My grandmother owned a shebeen in Mpumalanga so I grew up around homemade beer and moonshine. We used to serve it in a calabash (a carved pumpkin) for people to pass around. My grandmother would occasionally give me a taste or two.
That was the local hangout and I helped out there both in the shebeen and on the farm - it was an absolute community and family.
How is the bar at Fat Dragon unique?
It’s a fusion of everything. We celebrate craft but really it’s people first. Everyone who comes to us at the end of the day works hard - if you want to come relax with a Budweiser that’s cool too.
We try to focus on local, many of our taps are local breweries. Every month we do a tap takeover for the local breweries - we’ve done COTU, Ardent, Hardwood. We try to celebrate that renaissance.
In terms of the cocktails, we have a “free thought” policy - which means we are always cultivating new drinks. Our team stays curious and always learns. You can never know it all. It’s always changing, there is always something new in the market.
Right now we’re working on coffee cocktails with Confluence which we are really excited about.
We focus on fresh ingredients, make our own syrups and house tonics. It doesn’t have to be complex - quality ingredients go a long way to taste amazing.
What is your favorite part about being a bartender?
It’s energy, the excitement. When someone sits at the bar, the energy is connected immediately. You feel the magnetism right from saying hello. I enjoy meeting people from different walks of life - I never know who I’m going to meet tonight.
I really enjoy the people I work with. We are very tight knit, very fluid, only promote healthy egos, that kind of thing. Pedro is the GM and could be in the office doing something but he’s always on the floor. He probably buses more than a busser. We all know what the goal is - the goal is to provide a good atmosphere, good energy.
Which cocktail do you hope people ask for?
Classics - or inspired from the classics. Something with the foundation that is tried and true - drinking on of those feels almost like talking to your grandma or grandma. I like tequila and gin drinks, when someone orders a fernet I like that a lot. It transports me in time.
What is your guilty pleasure cocktail?
Well I would never feel guilty cocktail about it - but a dirty martini. Up. I enjoy the touch of salt, olive.
How does the bar influence the food, and vice versa?
The food is the birth of the inspiration for the bar, the flavors we try to incorporate those Asian flavors. One of our cocktails is Love you Long Time - with ginger and oolong tea. We are always looking back in the kitchen for five spice and pear - things like that. We’ve done five spice cocktails - we’re always messing that.
Do you have any advice for new or home bartenders?
Stay humble and stay adventurous - have a healthy ego. Celebrate the people you work with and enjoy your team. Learn the classics but stay open to learning.
What’s the question you get most often while bartending?
“Where are you from?” or “How did you get to Richmond?” I always say, “I walked!” (Not really.)
What’s the best food + cocktail pairing at Fat Dragon?
I would say the Warm & Fuzzy Honey (Bulleit Rye Whiskey, Bärenjäger liqueur, fresh OJ & bitters, topped with ginger beer) with the Tangerine Chicken.
- 1 1/2 oz. Belle Ruby Red Grapefruit Moonshine
- 3/4 oz. house made tonic
- 3/4 oz. Elderflower syrup
- 2 dashes Hibiscus Lavender Bitters
Shake well, top with champagne, Licor 43, Egg white foam.
Recipe by Kabo Kgang
1 1/2 oz. Belle Isle Premium Moonshine
3/4 oz. Pimm’s
- 3/4 oz. Domaine de Canton Ginger liqueur
- 1/2 oz. fresh squeezed ginger
- 3/4 oz. fresh Ruby Red grapefruit juice
- 2 dash Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit Bitters
- 2 dash Lavender Cucumber Bitters
Shake well, top with Bold Rock VA Cider, and garnish with a sprig of rosemary.
Recipe by Kabo Kgang