You’ve probably seen Wootak Kim on your “For You” page.
With his signature wavy bob, nose ring, and tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, Kim has established himself as one of the most popular bartending and mixology accounts on TikTok — boasting more than 1.7 million followers and 42 million likes on his videos.
Kim first started his TikTok account to promote his company BarChemistry, which sells aesthetically pleasing matte cocktail equipment in eye-catching colors and tones. Before the pandemic, he worked as a bartender at establishments across New York City, including Hutong New York, Ventanas at the Modern, and Nittis. When the pandemic hit, Kim was able to fully dedicate himself to developing and curating his TikTok account — gaining more than 100,000 followers in the first month.
VinePair spoke to Kim about how his Korean-American heritage influences his mixology, the content that sets him apart from other creators, and his favorite drink for a night on the town.
1. You’ve defined yourself as “the only established Asian content creator in the drinks space.” What does that mean to you, and how does that affect the way that you make your drinks and run your platforms?
I’ve grown up in a lot of communities that weren’t very Asian, so I always felt very tokenized. I felt like everything about me was race first. I always liked to do things you didn’t really see from Asian people — I don’t really see a lot of Asian bartenders, period, especially not mixologists. I really appreciate that I have the opportunity to be that face and that voice for Asian people, especially because there’s that whole stereotype that Asians aren’t cool or that Asians don’t know how to drink, which is completely false.
2. How does your heritage impact the drinks that you’re making?
I try to incorporate as much of my personality and myself as I can into my drinks. I use Asian ingredients — I’m very big on using Korean and other East Asian flavors that I’ve never seen in craft cocktails. Most people that are making craft cocktails are probably not familiar with them. I think they’re becoming more familiar because East Asian ingredients are booming in popularity in the culinary scene and the mixology scene (for example, yuzu is wildly popular). I like to use things like kimchi in ways that people might not think of. I love all the variations of sake, especially with soju becoming a little bit higher-quality. Now, I love using those as well.
3. What is your general style when you’re making cocktails?
I like to be as different as possible. As I got better with cocktails, I learned that pretty much all cocktails are following similar templates. So that made it really easy, honestly, to be different — to think, what have I never seen before? I’ll see something that inspires me and I’m thinking, “OK, but what can I do? What can I layer on to this that’ll make it even crazier?”
When I first started mixology, there was somebody who made an Oreo Espresso Martini, and it was just an Espresso Martini that was infused with Oreo. So I thought, “that is amazing,” and I made it. Taste-wise, it was delicious, but it was very bland looking. For such a crazy cocktail, it should look better. So I layered an Oreo cream, hand-whipped cream, on top of the espresso with Oreo cookie crumbles so that it actually looked like an Oreo. I love taking things that I know can be better and just being a little “extra” with everything.
@barchemistry By classic I meant original. 🥴 #cocktails #oreo #bartender #bartending #bar #coffee ♬ Oreo – 李让同学
4. When did you kind of decide to switch career paths and focus on online content creation specifically?
I wanted to eventually start my own business somehow. I was looking for my own custom barware, and I realized there were no matte bar tools — I couldn’t find any good ones. They existed, but they were just really bad. So I started shopping around on Alibaba and eventually, after making samples, I started my own business, basically. That’s when I decided to really focus on content. I thought, “Well, now I’ve spent my life savings on producing these products; I need a way to market them.” So, I hopped on TikTok when I lost my job in March 2020, and I made three videos every day for like a month. By the end of that month, I had 100,000 followers.
5. So you started creating videos as a way to market these products. Is that still the goal, or has it evolved beyond that?
It’s definitely evolved way beyond that. I always had the goal of making content that wasn’t truly marketing. I never sold my products in my videos; I just used them and then taught cocktails in a way that I thought was approachable and funny. People seemed to like it. So afterwards, I just took the content more and more seriously — always trying to come up with new and better ways to teach the things that I know or that I’m into to a wider and younger demographic. I’ve also noticed that a lot of mixology and cocktail content can be unapproachable and pretentious. So I wanted to be the opposite of that and make it fun.
6. How are you continuing to grow your following and your community on TikTok?
Besides consistency, it’s [about] constantly reinventing yourself. For a while, I was doing the same thing over and over because I knew it would work. But then, I noticed my views dropping after four or five months of making the same style of videos. At first I was like, “Oh, it’s the algorithm, blah blah blah.” But eventually, I just had to swallow the pill and say, “No, my content is just not as good anymore because it’s too similar to what it always is like.” So I came up with a new series and new ways to deliver the content that utilizes what people follow me for, which I guess is me and my personality. So I keep that constant, but I keep trying to invent new ways to entertain and educate people.
7. What have been some of the most popular cocktails so far that you’ve made on TikTok?
I would say anything that’s my own recipe — the anime cocktails, especially. I think two of the most popular are Hisoka from “Hunter x Hunter” and Itachi, who was one of my favorite anime characters of all time from “Naruto.” There’s always the things that I don’t think will do well when it comes to classics because I’m thinking they’re too basic, and then the video will pop, as opposed to something that I personally as a mixologist am really proud of. It’s always the simpler, easier-to- do-at-home ones that really pop, like a Moscow Mule. I posted that video maybe three times, and they love it every time. I mean, they’re great, don’t get me wrong.
@barchemistry Reply to @samuelhernandez878 yes itachi was based off of me. Yes I am that cool. #cocktails #bartender #bartending #itachi #naruto #anime ♬ loneliness _ naruto – ComicSans
8. What is the best part of your job?
The complete authority I have over myself. Obviously, I have to answer to clients when I do brand deals, and I also have to put my followers and my community first in my mind. I work six or seven days a week, but I get to decide when I don’t want to work. Sometimes, I’m really not motivated — then I’m going to not post for two weeks. Having that kind of freedom is extremely valuable to me.
9. What is your go-to drink to make or to order when you’re out?
10. What is your advice for aspiring bartenders who want to turn their social channels into a full-time career?
It’s definitely easier said than done. I think that people need to be different. I see so many bartending or cocktail channels where it’s all the same thing. People are just posting recipes trying to be really aesthetic. They’re making what they want to see — it’s more like a personal diary rather than putting themselves in the shoes of somebody watching. If you’re not a mixologist and you’re not a bartender, what would interest you about this content? Nine times out of 10, it’s absolutely nothing. I think that you have to make it digestible to everyone if you want it to really be successful.