Going out for cocktails is no longer just that thing you do after a long day at work. It’s evolved into an experience led by top Denver bartenders like TJ Vong, who has contributed to drink menus at local spots like Black Pearl, Terminal Bar and Mister Tuna. Vong’s latest gig has him running the bar program at TAG Restaurant, where he chases quaffable pours with a combination of classic style and individuality. We recently bellied up to the bar with Vong to talk confidence, airport shopping and what bone marrow has to do with his signature style.
303 Magazine: Describe your personal style.
TJ Vong: My personal style would be described as ever-changing – not because I follow trends but because it’s an expression of my personality which is always growing the more I learn. My style is a mixture of inspiration, creativity, confidence, and open-mindedness. My outfits can range from wearing a poncho, t-shirt and jeans to a fedora, green blazer, and a bowtie. If I find something I like, I wear it with no boundaries.
303: How has being a bartender affected how you dress?
TJV: Being a bartender has definitely changed how I dress on a day to day basis, for me, how you dress at work should be how you dress best. As a bartender, I’m always wearing a button up, tie/bowtie, pocket square and vest. If that is what most people see you in, you have to be a bit more creative to dress to impress because in my industry you are almost always on stage. But most of all, bartending has affected what I wear to feel confident.
303: How do you think bartenders’ style has affected the way men dress in general?
TJV: A lot of bartenders like myself like to pull off of classical styles or styles we find on our travels. We are all a little weird, but in all the best ways! Additionally, many of us aren’t afraid to break a style guideline and show you how it’s done. Although I don’t think any of us are truly fashion gurus, we just like to have fun and look good doing so! I think the way we dress overall provides inspiration to both men and women, to try new things they normally wouldn’t.
303: What are your wardrobe essentials?
TJV: Although I may come off as redundant in saying this, confidence really is my wardrobe essential – without it no outfit is complete. And hey, if you lack confidence take a shot of tequila, that usually helps! Other than that, pocket squares are a simple accessory that can be applied in multiple ways and add individual style to an outfit. I also collect vintage tie-bars, which adds a subtle but noticeable piece of detail.
303: What do you wear on your days off?
TJV: What I wear on my days off can range drastically. For a more relaxed look, I’ll throw on a poncho with jeans and a tee shirt, and a flat-bill hat or if it’s a chilly day I could wear a white V-neck, leather jacket, wing-tip boots, and dark rolled-up jeans. Cold days allow me to have a little more fun because I can play around with layers, for example, a dark green blazer, sweater or vest, tie/bowtie, a button up and leather cap-toe boots.
303: Who are your style icons and why?
TJV: I’ve never put much thought into individual styles when pulling for inspiration. Usually, I’ll see something I like here or there and then I apply it to my own style. If I have to choose someone specific Andre 3000 is probably one of my top style icons. He constantly blends a more classical style of attire with modern flare, effortless enthusiasm and confidence. Other than that, the only people that really come to mind are the James Bond characters. Every character displays a detailed stylish look that can always be referenced for how simple details like fit, color, and minimal accessories offer a clean and always stylish look.
303: If you could raid anyone’s closet whose would it be and why?
TJV: This is another question that I’ve never really considered. I don’t believe I have ever borrowed clothes from another man’s closet, however, most people borrow from me. The first person that comes to mind though is Johnny Depp, because who knows what kind of weird and fun outfits I could find in there!
303: Favorite spots to shop in Colorado? Why?
TJV: My favorite spot to shop is probably a Nordstrom Rack, it’s pretty much where I find most of my ties, bowties and pocket squares for cheap. Shopping vintage stores can be equally inexpensive but with the added bonus of excitement and nerdy finds!
303: What’s your favorite item in your closet right now?
TJV: My favorite item in my wardrobe is currently a velvet dark blue blazer.
303: What was your last impulse purchase?
TJV: My last impulse purchase is actually the velvet blue blazer from above. I picked this up at an airport in Italy, waiting for a flight. It fit perfectly for fifty dollars and it was something I didn’t think I would normally get to see in Denver.
“My style is a mixture of inspiration, creativity, confidence, and open-mindedness.” – TJ Vong
303: If you wrote a style bible, what would be in it?
TJV: Oh man, I feel like I would have to write a full style bible just to answer this question properly. In short, deciding an outfit is like making a cocktail — what ingredients do I have and how do I create the best possible outcome? I would probably describe basic style guidelines and then explain how they can be bent and shifted to help create your own style. As well as how to apply simple textures and patterns to your outfit to add more detail without accessories.
303: Describe a cocktail that represents you and your signature style.
TJV: While it’s not really a cocktail, this is a weird and unlikely combination of ingredients that somehow work together very well and I believe that’s what bests represents my style. I take unique pieces that may seem like an unlikely pairing and create something that works. My style is unique — that’s how I ended up writing this, right? So let’s get weird, my cocktail would be a bone marrow luge of Leopolds’ Apple Whiskey. If you aren’t familiar, it is when you take the hollow bone after scraping out the marrow and pour the Leopolds’ Apple Whiskey through the bone into your mouth.
All photography by Austin Cope.