When Holly Graham And Gabriel Gliga’s The Chronic Confidential Mash-up Made Its Way To Layla – Eatery & Bar And Beyond

Holly Graham, Gabriel Gliga, Jay Moir, and Jeremy Faucan

It was conga lines, delightful chaos and near catastrophe as old friends Tokyo Confidential’s Holly Graham and The Pickwicks Chronicles Gabriel Gliga got the gang back together for her first ever guest shifts in Vietnam, in association with Altos Tequila, starting at Layla – Eatery & Bar before heading north to Hanoi. 

Time To Grow Up 

The two old friends’ careers took a similar trajectory recently. Gabriel Gliga stepped down after six years at Havana Social in Bangkok, feeling it was “time to grow up,” and to become co-founder of The Pickwicks Chronicles, in the same city. 

Holly Graham left her beloved Hong Kong – her two cats, eventually, in tow – to open Tokyo Confidential, with husband Tom, head bartender Waka Murata, and an ever-expanding team of young Tokyoites. 

Holly Graham and Gabriel Gliga at Lay la - Eatery & Bar
Holly Graham and Gabriel Gliga, who have taken similar trajectories by opening their own bars recently, reunited at Layla – Eatery & Bar.

What The Dickens?

Both bars foreground their concepts. For Gabriel’s The Pickwicks Chronicles it’s the story of Charles Dickens’ first novel, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, also known as The Pickwick Papers. 

The book, which became a publishing phenomenon, was based on an earlier series of descriptions of sketches that his publisher asked him to connect into a novel. 

“The story goes that Charles Dickens was very drunk one night in a bar. He wrote the start of the story on the wall, and because he didn’t have money to pay, looked at the bartender, and told him that was the payment and walked out,” Gabriel, who became a bartender at 17, and has worked in places as diverse as his home country of Romania, Prague, Germany, Qatar, Dubai and India, explains. 

“Co-incidentally, I’m famous for doing the same. Although I always make sure I return the following day to pay.”

Altos Tequila Shots at Layla - Eatery & Bar
Party time during the Holly Graham and Gabriel Gliga guest shift at Layla – Eatery & Bar.

Character-based Cocktails 

Every signature cocktail is based on a character in the book. “The main characters are gin cocktails, and secondary characters are vodka, rum, cognac, or eau de vie. Plus, every main character’s drink comes with a business card representing the character, and on it, the drink’s ingredients and a short story.”

Besides the signature and classic cocktails, and eclectic wine list, The Pickwicks Chronicles has become known for its gin flights “arranged in different ways” Gabriel says. “As a progression based on the style, origin, botanicals and flavor of the gins.”

And, at The Pickwicks Chronicles, they serve them across two floors, a downstairs space that gets crowded, and an upstairs, penthouse-style room where they also host guest shifts. “Actually, Holly and some Hong Kong bartenders were our first ever guest shift,” Gabriel remembers.

Pull up, fess up, laybacks, with bartenders Holly Graham and Gabriel Gliga
Holly Graham bringing Tokyo Confidential’s “high contrasts and delightful chaos” to Layla – Eatery & Bar.

High Contrasts And Beautiful Chaos 

Tokyo Confidential, a cocktail bar that celebrates “high contrasts and delightful chaos” was inspired by clandestine clubs, and out-of-control house parties. 

“We’re not a Japanese bar. But, we are a bar in Japan. So, we try to focus on underused Japanese ingredients – shochu, Awamori – a cousin of shochu from Okinawa – unfiltered sake, that’s like Korean makgeolli, miso, and umami bitters,” Holly explains. “They’re modern-style cocktails with a Japanese taste.”

Cathartic after work drinks are the cornerstone of office culture in Japan. And so Tokyo Confidential implores guests to “pull and up fess up…and don’t be a f*ck up.”

“It depends what kind of f*ck up – whether you’re a good f*ck up or a bad f*ck up,” Holly, who was recognized as No.9 in the Bar World 100 in 2023, laughs. 

The Pickwick Chronicles Gabriel Gliga
Gabriel Gliga, former bar manager at Havana Social in Bangkok, and now co-founder at The Pickwicks Chronicles in the same city.

And Lots Of Silly Sh*t 

But it was all, Holly admits, a risky venture. Japanese cocktail bars are known for being quiet with beautiful mixology. Lots of people said Tokyo Confidential, at 35-seats, a large bar by Tokyo standards, wouldn’t work. 

“Inside we’ve got a horseshoe-shaped bar” Holly explains. “And there are fun playlists, eclectic art, and even, a custom-made cocktail fountain, with sake that comes out of his wiener.”

“Just lots of silly sh*t,” she concludes. “And, despite the odd naysayer, the reception has been amazing.”  

Old friends Holly Graham and Gabriel Gliga
Gabriel back with his friend and the guest at the first-ever guest shift at The Pickwicks Chronicles, Holly Graham.

Chronic Confidential Comes To Layla – Eatery & Bar

Since it opened in 2016, Layla – Eatery & Bar has become something of a Saigon institution, a feat Tokyo Confidential and Pickwicks Chronicles both may go on to achieve. 

All three are hospitable and homely too. 

So, Holly and Gabriel crunched together their bars’ names into a rough mash-up – Chronic Confidential – and set off, Gabriel from Bangkok and Holly from KLCW, the Kuala Lumpur Cocktail Festival – for guest shifts at Layla – Eatery & Bar and, a few days later, at Hudson Rooms at Capella Hotel Hanoi on behalf of Pernod Ricard Vietnam and Altos Tequila

The menu featured two cocktails each: Gabriel’s Havana Club 7-based Little Havana – a look back to when he ran Havana Social, the best stocked rum bar in Southeast Asia, and his Nathaniel Winkle, from The Pickwicks Chronicles, made with French gin, Lillet, Sauvignon Blanc, and St. Germain elderflower liqueur inspired by Nathaniel’s weird obsession with all things French in Dickens’ novel. 

Party time at Layla - Eatery & Bar
“I know I can hold you up, but I was shouting at you not to wobble back and forth to avoid catastrophe, as there wasn’t space!”

Having A Berry Blast

Holly made a fizzy and refreshing Agave Berry Blast, an ode to Ribena, the blackcurrant-based soft drink she’d grown up on in England, and her Sunburn, “a kind of Martini meets milk punch” which takes its name from the Crème de Pêche and vermouth that are clarified with aloe vera yogurt – a popular remedy for sunburn.

Together, thanks to a series of initially confusing texts messages, they eventually aligned on one collaborative cocktail, their Chronic Confidential Colada, a twist on the Pina Colada, with Gabriel’s topical Caribbean influences and some Japanese miso, from Holly’s new home base.

At 240-seats, Layla – Eatery & Bar is also a cavernous venue for a guest shift. The day after, Holly and Gabriel both agree the high ceilings accommodated their antics well – with Holly even getting on Gabriel’s shoulders at one point. 

There was an attempt at an electric boogaloo-style bartender human snake too – a challenge with two guest bartenders, Holly and Gabriel, and eight Layla bartenders across 10-meters of bar – especially as no one in the Layla team seemed to know what they were supposed to do. The conga went better, snaking through the bar area, through the lounge and past the pool table, and finally across the terrace and back to the bar.

The Chronic Confidential guest shift at Jay Moir's Layla - Eatery & Bar
Good times at Layla – Eatery & Bar during the Chronic Confidential guest shift.

Then ‘Wannabe’ By The Spice Girls Came On

As for Holly getting on Gabriel’s shoulders: “We were waiting for the right time to do it, then ‘Wannabe’ by the Spice Girls came on, with the ‘friendship never ends’ line and that was clearly our cue,” she nods.

“It’s quite narrow in the bar though,” Gabriel says, “and I know I can hold you up, but I was shouting at you not to wobble back and forth to avoid catastrophe, as there wasn’t space!”

“Right, I was considering attempting a snap pour up there till I thought better of it,” Holly laughs. 

Conga at Layla - Eatery & Bar
A conga breaks out during Holly Graham and Gabriel Gliga’s guest shift at Layla – Eatery & Bar.

Conga Lines And Delightful Chaos Concluded, And Catastrophe Averted

Delightful chaos concluded and catastrophe averted, Holly and Gabriel ran it back in Hanoi, at the Hudson Rooms, another raucous night, in the refined surrounds of the Capella Hanoi, and then they were out.

Gabriel, after a short pit-stop in Bangkok, headed on to Mongolia for UBCW, Ulaanbaatar Cocktail Week.

Holly headed back to her new home “to launch the first Tokyo Confidential menu based around baseball – with drinks like a hot dog-flavored Martini and another drink served inside a baseball.”

“I did say we like silly sh*t,” Holly reminds us. And the Chronic Confidential guests shifts had lots of wonderfully silly moments too.

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