For Ran Duan, It’s All in the Family

He built a reputation as one of the world’s elite bartenders at his parents’ Sichuan restaurant in Woburn. Now Duan’s bringing the show to a much bigger stage.

ran duan

Ran Duan (center) kicks back with his staff at the Baldwin Bar. / Photograph by Webb Chappell

Ran Duan is living the American dream. Just ask him. In less than a decade, he’s gone from Johnson & Wales hospitality major to self-taught cocktail wiz to one of the world’s elite bartenders, all before the age of 30. Not only that, but Duan’s been able to accomplish that feat far from Boston’s city limits, in a North Shore Sichuan restaurant that his father opened after leaving a career in opera.

When he joined the family business in 2009, Duan convinced his father to cede half of the space in the Sichuan Garden II restaurant—which serves up lacquered duck and spicy Chengdu chicken wings in a former 17th-century mansion—and turn it into a Trader Vic’s–styled tiki tavern called the Baldwin Bar. Woburn residents were slow to take to Duan’s pricier (and boozier) arsenal, but the investment finally paid off, with Boston industry personnel flocking there on their days off.

Though Duan has achieved fame in his own right, his success has been a family affair—as was the drink that vaulted him into the national spotlight. When Duan’s son, Maxwell, was born, Duan’s dad gave him this piece of wisdom: “The greatness of a man is not measured by his wealth but by his integrity to love and his abilities to put someone else’s needs before his.” Duan parlayed that into a new cocktail dubbed “Father’s Advice”—a cross between a Manhattan and an El Presidente—that helped him secure the crown at the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild’s national cocktail competition in 2015.

ran duan Forbidden Swizzle cocktail

The rum-based Forbidden Swizzle is brightened with orange blossom water. / Photograph by Webb Chappell

Since that win, he’s appeared in GQ’s “Men of the Year” issue and traversed the globe representing the U.S. in the Bacardi Legacy challenge and Bombay Sapphire’s Most Imaginative Bartender competition, journeying to 12 countries in 10 months. In his travels, Duan found new wellsprings of inspiration at famous haunts such as London’s Artesian and Nightjar, and has incorporated elements from them into a “secret” cocktail lounge he opened last fall above the Baldwin.

“We went from two to eight bartenders on staff,” Duan says. “That just shows you how much our program has grown. We’re actually getting requests from out of state for bartenders who want to come stage. Just this week we had a guy come from China. Next week we have a girl coming from Belarus.”

And regarding that highly publicized email feud with Ben Edelman, the irate Harvard Business School professor who started a war over a $4 discrepancy at the original Sichuan Garden location, in Brookline? The business has emerged unscathed.

In fact, the scene of that debacle will become the setting for Duan’s long-rumored debut in the Boston area. Opening this winter, his yet-unnamed rum bar will feature several genres of tiki drinks, juleps, and flights of rum to pair with a menu of Southeast Asian small bites.

“Guests can come in and get more than a buzz; they can get an education,” he says. “That’ll resonate more and make them want to come back. All I can say is that I’m blessed. This is the American dream.”

2 Alfred St., Woburn, 781-935-8488; 295 Washington St., Brookline, 617-734-1870;