Mar 7, 2018 - Food and Drink

This award-winning 26-year-old bartender could work anywhere in the world and he’s about to launch his cocktail program at Sushi Guru



Michael Tubiera is a great bartender. Like, a world-class bartender. This 26-year-old spent the last few years racking up national awards in the Philippines and was fielding collaboration offers from all over the world.

This mad scientist has selected Plaza Midwood’s new Sushi Guru location as his laboratory.

In mid-March, you’ll be able to catch him whipping up concoctions on the second floor, where you can chill on the outside patio or grab a spot at the bar to watch the magic.

My prediction: Michael may be about to drop the best cocktail menu in the city.

Sushi Guru is eyeing mid-March for the opening of their 1217 The Plaza location.

What brings Michael to Charlotte?

Just like his cocktails, it’s all about creating something new and exciting. He had a ton of international buzz after representing the Philippines in the Diageo Reserve World Class 2016 Bartender of the Year, making him one of the 20 best bartenders in the world. He followed that up by being a finalist for the Giffard West Cup, putting him in the top 18 bartenders in the world.

He was consulting for a bit in Miami and knew he could take offers in New York or Los Angeles, but why go be part of an amazing cocktail scene when you could be a part of creating one?

“Charlotte has the potential to be one of the top cocktail destinations in the country,” he told me. He’s the kind of guy who speaks with a quiet confidence, unassuming, but self-assured. “We’re heading for a boom.”

I politely agreed, but in my head I was thinking there’s no chance.

But then I tried his cocktails.

The foam adds aromas and freshness to the master cocktails, and Michael uses several great foams. This bourbon-based Manhattan twist has a hazelnut foam. It’s called the Bushido.

What exactly makes these cocktails so special? It starts with balance.

Too many bartenders overload their cocktails with sugar and sours to cover up the taste of cheap liquor and stale ingredients.

Michael takes an approach that appeals to taste, smell, and texture, and he makes sure every element works in tandem. It’s sort of like drinking a symphony.

The Rozu Tea includes gin, citrus, egg white, and sake topped with fresh rose petals.

Flavors such as jasmine, elderberry, plum, and agave mix to create tastes you’ve never experienced before. Seriously, this menu is going to become required drinking for all Charlotteans.

But as important as taste is, you can’t forget the look. Instagrammability is more important than we’d like to admit. No one buys that $20 bloody mary at Moo & Brew just because they really like the tomato sauce. It’s about an arresting look and a memorable experience.

Michael gets it. These cocktails ain’t arriving just dumped in some bar glass. These garnishes and tea mugs make your cocktail a like-magnet on Instagram. The aroma completes a full sensory experience.

Jasmine, elderberry, citrus, egg white, and soursob make for a smooth, refreshing, and dang tasty cocktail.

How much is one of these going to run you? Short answer: we don’t know yet.

The menu isn’t 100% finished, just the overarching concepts. That means prices haven’t been decided. Plaza Midwood is a much more price sensitive neighborhood than SouthPark where Sushi Guru currently resides. Expensive cocktails might not catch on in a neighborhood that’s used to cheap beer. With Soul Gastrolounge right up the street, Sushi Guru is going to need to at least have one or two cocktail under $10 to really make a splash.

The team at Sushi Guru seems to get it. Everyone I talked to said they understood the neighborhood they’re coming into, its quirks, and its dislikes. They’re not going to make the same mistakes Comida did, especially when it comes to price.

Trying to re-create SouthPark Sushi Guru in Plaza Midwood would tank, but Michael, owner Cy, and master chef Cev are trying to bring a unique experience to The Plaza that’s all at once new, upscale, and fits in with what the neighborhood.

Fresh, homemade ingredients make all the difference.

Get pumped. Michael and Sushi Guru are about to shake up the cocktail game in Charlotte.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Charlotte.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Charlotte stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Charlotte.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more