Cocktails with Charles & Megan

Cal Volner-Dison Charles Papillo cocktails collaboration color design Inspiration Ken Ken Megan Thomas-Melly paper goods San Francisco

We sat down at the Ken Ken Ramen shop this week to catch up with our buddies Charles Papillo and Megan Thomas-Melly, two of the creative ninjas behind the bar. With their art backgrounds and tight friendship, Charles and Megan have teamed up to publish their own cocktail recipe book, Ken Ken Cocktails. Full of their colorful illustrations and their creative soju and sake concoctions, we couldn't wait for them to show us first hand what kind of tasty mixes they were gonna whip up.

Some of you may recognize Megan's face and name. Not only is she the tattooed beauty and face donning all the ladies clothing on, but she was once the writer and editor of this very blog!

While working in-between projects, these artists (Charles went to Parsons and Thomas-Melly went to Pratt) were looking to work together.

"I think we were always sort of talking about collaborating in some way" said Papillo.  "And then, as we were making a nightly special cocktail, we were doing these funny little drawings on the backs of menus to showcase the nightly concoction for our customers.  I guess the idea kind of spring-boarded from these doodles."

"Even though Charles' and my styles and techniques are different I think we both love color and pattern and share a similar kind of off beat humor so the collaboration felt natural, " said Thomas-Melly of working on the illustrations together. "It seems like we got crazier and crazier with each successive illustration, kind of like daring each other where we could go next."

Traditionally, soju and sake are served alone, but that didn't stop these two from coming up with delicious concoctions behind the bar.

"I think the remarkable thing about sake and soju is that they can be so clean and neat that they can pair well with a lot of different tastes," explained Thomas-Melly. "The sake and soju served at Ken Ken lend themselves to this type of play and experimentation."

"I think of it as extending one's experiential palette, added Papillo.  "It is by no means a traditional way of drinking sake or soju, but I think it's innovative in the way that it's new and refreshing to experiment with mixing concoctions.  The result is a more approachable cocktail for a wider audience.  It is a great way to convince more conventional beer or wine drinkers to experience a more exotic libation. "

Since these warm Cali nights have been feeling a little chillier towards the holidays, Charles and Megan showed us how to make one of their most popular drinks from the book, Hot Zombie. Named after the goofy ladies who love to make any halloween costume sexy, this dark plum colored mixture is soju, fruit juices and a spicy kick.

2 oz. Kumosabe Soju
2.5 oz Mango Juice
1 oz. Habanero infused lemonade
1.2 oz acai juice Ice



We also had Charles and Megan whip up something on the spot. They came up with a sexy, fruity concoction called Hot Passion.

2 oz. Apple-Cinnamon-infused Sui Jin sake
3 oz. Passion Fruit juice
1 tbsp. honey
1 oz. water


For future projects, Megan is heading back to grad school for art education and is lining up projects for next year. Charles is getting back to his studio practice as well. He recently completed a solo exhibition at 18 Reasons in SF entitled Grocery List (which also involved food) and will be collaborating with a group of artists and "trade dreams" for an installation at ATA next year. Check out their websites for updates!

Thank you Charles and Megan!



*photos by Cal Volner-Dison

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