Born in Mongolia, raised in Japan, and settled firmly in Shanghai, Moe – her full name – runs one of the tiniest bars in Shanghai. But besides her name, Moe (pronounced "Mo-ee") has little in common with Homer Simpson's favorite barman.
I was 20 when I arrived in Shanghai, Moe says from behind the counter. "I went to many bars, I drank a lot, and I spent a lot of money. One day, I thought to myself: 'With all the money I've spent on drinking, I could open my own bar.'"
And so she did. Her bar Moju is tucked inside a line of shops along a quiet tree-lined avenue in the Changning district, just west of downtown Shanghai. In a city of 26 million, this bar has room for just eight people along a single counter. The short, spry 30-year-old Moe designs her own bartender outfits and serves nothing but her own signature drinks, from a Bloody Mary made with her own truffle-infused vodka to a Korean Sour made with pomelo tea and egg white.
On this evening, Moe mixes a drink to the sound of Dean Martin crooning in the background. She rattles a cocktail shaker in a frenzy, over her head, to her side, and behind her back, before slamming it down on the bar with moves that, if seen from a distance, would resemble those of a Flamenco dancer.
Reservations are a must at Moju's. Customers come from all over the world and Moe chats with them in Japanese, Mongolian, Russian, Chinese, and English. "For me, Shanghai means diversity," she says. "Everyone is from somewhere else. When something becomes popular in other countries, it quickly arrives here."
Yet to a city with such a mix of people, Moe has dedicated the simplest of New Year's drinks – she calls it Sakura. "It took me half a year to get it right," she says, pushing the pink concoction across the bar.
She makes it with Botanist Gin, Cointreau triple sec, a twist of lemon, and the bright pink syrup of the cherry blossom flower, an import from Japan. "There's an old Japanese tale about a Sakura tree that lived for thousands of years. That's my hope for this drink," she says.
It's had a good start. In October, she entered the Sakura in an international competition sponsored by Cointreau, and she beat out dozens of mixologists from around the world to win first prize. "The other bartenders in the competition made very complex and sophisticated drinks," she recalls, but simple Sakura beat them all. And that's Moe's New Year's wish for 2017: that inside this ever-changing and expanding metropolis in one of the biggest economies of the world, the secret to success: keep it simple.