We thought it was time to post another storytelling series of a great bartender making a great drink. It starts, of course, with an empty mixing glass…Read More
There always seems to be something exciting going on in the San Diego Cocktail Scene, especially around the holidays. If it's not Old Fashioned's and Ugly Sweaters at the Lion's Share, it's Fernet's Bad Santa Toy Drive for Rady Children's Hospital (Dec 14th) . Not to mention the various Golden State of Cocktails Preview events in San Diego this week.
Behind all the hubbub, glitter bombs, out-of-town personalities, and competitions to determine who the "best of ... " is this season, we have bartenders and managers who show up for their shifts to provide consistent, considerate, intelligent service to their customers, day after day, and night after night. Today we'd like to shift a little of the spotlight onto two of these gentlemen who quietly ensure the magic happens every day of the year.
These are Aaron Zieske and Frank McGrath, General Manager and Assistant GM at Polite Provisions. With a majority of their work happening behind-the-scenes, we don't often have a chance to sit down and appreciate the role that Managers have in a cocktail service operation. So we carved out some time to chat about what makes a cocktail bar like Polite run the way it does, and what specific skills and duties are crucial to being a successful bar manager.
The Front Side of the Job
Ok, well first things first and obviously, to manage a cocktail bar you've got to be on point with your cocktail knowledge and craft. Being a bar manager means developing new cocktails, working on new menus, making sure service is consistent, guests are happy, and there's enough booze flowing freely into the hearts of happy customers. It means working shifts behind the bar, delivering incredible service, making patrons feel loved, and supporting everyone else working with you. However, the service pressure lightens up as you exchange some shifts for office hours, and you have "additional duties."
While there are certain benefits to exchanging bartending shifts for office hours, it can also be a challenging transition. Aaron and Frank report that while you definitely miss some of the energy of shift work (especially those epic in-the-zone marathon nights of solidarity and hilarity behind the bar), you're also pretty excited about not having to close 4 nights a week, and about having Sunday and Monday off. After working only one shift each week for a while, it's also obvious how physically demanding bartending is, and your future body thanks you for giving it a break. However, it's also apparent that making drinks is a skill you've got to keep up, or you'll get rusty at it -- real fast.
When asked if there's a lot of pressure to come up with your own original cocktails, Aaron replied with an emphatic YES. One of his cocktails, the Sorcerer's Apprentice, is due to appear on the menu this season (See the end of this article for the recipe!) Its name speaks to the emphasis he places on the importance of learning under someone and being mentored, and how continuous learning and development are an essential part of his story, not only as a recipient of wisdom and knowledge, but as one who now is responsible for providing it. "People have given that to me, and I have a responsibility to pass it on," he stated, matter-of-fact.
The Other Side of the Job
So what do a manager's duties entail when they're not keeping their craft up behind the bar? Well, there are administrative duties related to ordering, dealing with money, managing and revising workflow, keeping track of inventory, purchasing and managing repairs of machines, and dealing with emergencies like power outages and that one time there were no limes to be had anywhere.
But when we asked Aaron about the most important part of his job, his answer was suspiciously thematic: "staffing, scheduling, hiring, training, terminating, paying, mentoring, recommending...." to sum it up, the most important part of his role is staff relations. Yes, admin and technical duties are part of the package, but those things are easily teachable. If you're not adept at managing employees, and not willing to work on staff relations every single day, being a bar manager is not the role for you.
Being in charge of staffing and ensuring a bar program is run efficiently isn't the most glamorous of jobs. According to Aaron, if you're in it for the status, to be the big boss, to have a little reign of your own, it's pretty likely you'll fail before long. Being a Bar Manager or GM means you work for your employees, and your job is to make sure that their jobs are more enjoyable and more secure. That means being consistent, being fair, listening with understanding, and creating a culture of trust and dependability. It also means pointing the finger at yourself when things are rough, and constantly working to be better at the work you're doing.
Frank's journey to a managerial role is an exceptional case, the perfect combination of hard work and natural leading capability paired with being in the right place at the right time for the right opportunities to manifest in rapid growth. He's had his work cut out for him with a steep learning curve, but rose to the challenge, and his development is a great asset to the bar. We asked him about the most significant part of his journey into management, and he responded with the wisdom that's evidently a core part of his character: "any move to management is based on earning trust above and below you. If you don't have trust and respect, you don't deserve management."
The Everyday Man Will Be There Tomorrow
And that brings us to one of our closing thoughts.
It's easy in the cocktail industry to value the visible strengths of magnetic personalities, sexiest bartenders, scientific cocktail nerdiness (dare we say, snobbery?), or that guy who's moved on to open a bar program at the next new hot spot. None of these things are bad, and we appreciate them as well - they're fun, exciting, educational and challenging.
But there are other strengths that are so incredibly impactful, and that are by nature less newsworthy. Loyalty is one - what about the bar manager who's built up a great team and managed it well for years? Loyalty is, by it's very nature, the same old news. Trust and dependability are more of the same - no drama there to splash on the local magazines. These are the things we appreciate about sitting down at a familiar bar with a familiar face behind it. These are the things that communicate substance and provide a safe place, both for patrons and staff.
Of course, and as Aaron emphasized at one point, not everyone has the opportunity for development where they are, and every career follows a different path. Often change is necessary to remain engaged, challenged, and growing. But the quiet character traits of patience, perseverance, commitment and contentment are worth taking a step back and recognizing when you come across them.
There are many more of these men and women than we can recognize, and many that have been serving in managerial roles longer than Aaron and Frankie. We'd like to thank all them for the role they play in creating a culture where your team is solid and established, your guests are comfortable and familiar. Here's a cheers to those favorite haunts where you go not to be in the fray of the next big thing, but to rest in the familiar routine, have a glass of something nice, and just be.
You can find Aaron behind the bar on Friday nights, and Frank on Thursdays & Saturdays.
BONUS - Favorite Stirred Cocktail Recipes
While we were talking bartending craft, Aaron and Frank shared a few of their favorite cocktails with us. Since we were trying out the new spoons behind their bar, we kept them stirred and boozy! While both bartenders love the single-piece, straight handled Aero Cocktail Spoon, Frank unapologetically stands behind the Wingman Spinning Cocktail Spoon as a workhorse for busy nights behind the bar :)
Want a spoon for yourself or to give as a gift this season? Polite Provisions is currently the ONLY place in San Diego to pick up these spoons in person! Here's some stirred drink inspiration:
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
- Dash of Dale Degroff's Pimento Bitters
- Short 1/2 oz Nux Alpina Walnut Liqueur
- 3/4 oz 15-year Oloroso Sherry
- 1 oz Famous Grouse Blended Scotch Whiskey
- 1 oz Balvenie Doublewood 12 year
- Orange Twist Garnish
Frankie's Old Fashioned
- 2 dashes black walnut bitters (a little goes a long way!)
- 1/4 oz house-made vanilla gomme syrup (make some with vanilla beans added to this DIY recipe)
- 2 oz Buffalo Trace bourbon
- Lemon Peel Garnish
Jump The Gun - The first cocktail Aaron ever created, circa 2007. On the menu at Ten-01 in Portland
- 2 dashes peach bitters
- 2 dashes absinthe
- Short 1/2 oz house-made curaçao
- 2 oz Sazerac Rye
- Lemon Twist garnish
The Poet's Dream - On the Polite Provisions Happy Hour Menu during the first year - the drink that got Frankie into gin cocktails.
- 2 dashes orange bitters
- 3/4 oz dry vermouth
- 1/4 oz Benedictine
- 2 oz London Dry Gin
- Lemon Peel Garnish
It had been in the works for a while, and we were eager to see what drinks had made the cut. With 51 cocktails to choose from, The Lion's Share just released the largest cocktail menu in San Diego. Touching all sorts of spirits and all ranges of complexity, the craft cocktail lounge & restaurant is opening its arms wide to all who imbibe--and after perusing the menu ourselves last week, we're pretty sure you'll find something to love.
Tye on Menu Concept and the BAR 5-Day Experience
The man behind the menu is The Lion's Share Bar Manager David Tye, who's been curating the collection for the past six months. He describes his intention for the menu was to hit the bell curve of cocktail tastes in San Diego. By providing many options, from easy, approachable flavors to more challenging, obscure spirits, anyone who walks in the door, whether beginning imbiber or seasoned bartender, should be able to orient to an area of the menu that speaks to their sensibilities.
In the midst of putting the finishing touches on the menu, Tye attended the rigorous BAR 5-Day Certificate Program in New York in September. Not only did he have to wake up before 8 am for 5 days in a row (something he hasn't done in a decade), but he faced 12-hour days of testing, tasting, and advanced memory recall that pushed his knowledge of distilled spirits and mixology to the limit. Working alongside some of the top bartenders, national brand ambassadors, and corporate mixologists in his class, and visiting some of the renowned high-end cocktail bars in the city gave him a refreshing perspective after the grueling hours of menu testing and creation in San Diego.
Tye said the experience helped to eliminate some of the crushing weight of self-doubt he'd dealt with in the past, and he's much more comfortable taking criticism. In fact, he observed that San Diego's bartending community is almost too nice and quick to complement. When a new cocktail is mediocre, he feels many peers shy away from offering honest feedback and constructive criticism. Sounds like he doesn't want manners to get in the way of the meat of the matter - so speak freely, my friends!
After returning from the BAR 5-Day, Tye reported he also felt more comfortable working with ingredients that he personally doesn't care for. Are you in love with Ancho Reyes? David can't stand it. But he can appreciate how to use it in cocktails for people who love that earthy, peppery spice. Two things you will NOT find on the new menu: Sherry Cocktails and Blue Curaçao. While Tye feels San Diego isn't really ready or interested in Sherry, he draws the line at blue drinks. In his opinion, San Diego should have a lot of light, refreshing drinks on menus - bring out the citrus, the ice, the tiki, and stuff with mint in it. We have basically summer all year long, and a daiquiri or a margarita is appropriate for our warm climate. But, in his words, "F*** Blue Curaçao."
Ok, it's a good point he makes about those refreshing cocktails. Cold, cement cities like New York should be stirring up dark boozy drinks all day, while we should be sipping something topped with a lime wedge when the weather warrants short sleeves. What else did David Tye bring back from his trip? An intense and immediate need to increase the efficiency of making drinks at the bar. After observing some of the high-end and high volume cocktail establishments in New York, he knew he needed to dial in the bar setup and work with staff on a new routine for building drinks.
We were curious not only why the menu was so large, but how the bar is able to navigate making all of those offerings, which require 115 unique ingredients (and a bit more memory recall!). Bar modifications included making more room for syrups, a meticulous color-coding and labeling system, and a bit of re-organization to set up a circular flow around each bartender's station. Bartenders build cocktails first by starting on the upper right with bitters and fruit, moving to the left where the syrups are lined up, and then down into the well for citrus, spirits, and liqueurs. While a few cocktails have some pre-batched components, surprisingly few of them have much make-ahead preparation.
OK, so tell us about the MENU already!
Alright, alright! Technically the menu consists of 49 permanent drinks. Number 50 is the revolving Homegrown Cocktail, a monthly featured recipe by a local bartender (benefits to charity too!), and 51 is Dealer's Choice. Not quite enough? Don't forget the $6 Happy Hour menu, a 12-drink list available from 4-6 pm which includes 6 classic cocktails not listed in the master grid. These guys have been busy.
The 49 featured drinks on the main menu are laid out in a 7 x 7 grid, so you can scan and select a column that appeals to you: whiskey, juniper, agave, tiki, fruit/grape, grain/sparkling, and more whiskey. The seven rows in the grid help a guest navigate through the menu by categorizing the drinks into 4 categories: House Favorites, 28 original Lion's Share recipes that make up the bulk of the menu, Classics, where you'll find the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club (a tropical drink that pre-dates tiki!), Safe Bets with easy, approachable flavors (your French 75 and Pisco Sour are here), and the Research & Development menu, which highlights cocktails with more complex flavor profiles or that use obscure spirits and liqueurs, such as the coffee & cigarettes rum from New Zealand used in the "Hell of a Morning" cocktail.
Many of the cherished cocktails of The Lion's Share loyal patrons made the crossover to the new menu, including the all-time favorites Federal Buffalo Stamp (bourbon, lemon, ginger, maple syrup) and St. Elizabeth Sexy Party (bourbon, cinnamon, allspice, chocolate bitters), which occupy the coveted No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the book. David Tye's personal favorite at the moment is the Blank Shooter, which started out as a daiquiri variation, evoking a porch hangout in the humid south, with a refreshing tipple of peach and mint to make the afternoon pass more pleasantly.
Live within a day's drive of San Diego? We highly recommend taking this menu for a spin in person. If you've got to book a flight and bide your time, dream and drool a little over the full menu at www.lionssharesd.com, and in the meantime consider mixing up one of these menu favorites:
Yucatan: 1 oz Guanabana liqueur, 3/4 oz orange juice, 1/2 oz lime juice, plum bitters, shaken and strained into a chilled coupe glass and topped with champagne.
The Blank Shooter: 2 oz Rittenhouse Rye, 1 oz lemon, 3/8 oz cinnamon syrup, 3/8 oz honey syrup, 1/4 oz fernet branca, peach bitters. Serve in a chilled coupe glass with a lemon peel garnish.
Mr Gnome It All: 2 oz Old Harbor gin, 1 oz lime, 3/4 oz simple syrup, 3 basil leaves, shaken and strained into a green bell pepper vessel, and garnished with the best basil leaf you can find.
Kitchen Boss Lady: 2 oz tequila, 1/2 oz kiwi puree, 1/2 oz banana liqueur, 1/2 oz lime juice, 1/2 oz agave, shaken and strained into an old fashioned glass. Mist with Kalani coconut liqueur and garnish with a lime wedge.
Cannon-Rider: 2 oz Goslings Black Seal rum, 4 whole raspberries, 3/4 oz lime juice, 3/4 oz cinnamon syrup, 3 dashes absinthe, 2 dashes angostura bitters. Muddle & mix & serve in a chilled coupe glass with a lime wedge garnish.
Looking to up your drink-making game? Check out our pair of super high quality bar spoons. The AERO is a solid, seamless, straight handled bar spoon that will last a lifetime. The WINGMAN is the only spinning barspoon on the market, sometimes a little TOO fun to use... Buy online now at the Standard Spoon Store.
And... thinky pains... article end done. XOXO Rachel Eva & Shawn Michael.
All photos taken by Shawn Michael for Standard Spoon
In what we hope may become an annual event, eleven San Diego bars each sent one protégé to compete in the second Young Guns Bartender Competition last month. Seasoned professionals were relegated to the audience (and bar backing) to see what new tricks the younger drink makers in the San Diego cocktail scene could pull off.
Photos of the event were taken by Shawn Michael; you can see the full photo album on the Standard Spoon Facebook Page.
Complete with a host of sponsors, a panel of judges, a giant overhead fan, facepaint, and a playlist all over the place, it was a roaring event that carried late into the night, and produced three winners leading the pack of San Diego's newest talent.
The judges announced that the competition was fierce, and winners were determined by as close as a one-point difference in scoring! In addition to the three top scoring drinks, nearly a dozen delectable cocktails were crafted that night. Be sure to familiarize yourselves with this list of dynamic drink-slingers, and go on a young bartender hunt at these participating bars:
- 1st Place **Justin Richardson - Kettner Exchange
- 2nd Place ** Morgan Furrer - Banker's Hill Bar & Restaurant
- 3rd Place ** Jamie Pawlowski - Coin-Op Game Room
- Brandon Curry - The Lion's Share
- Matt Raab - Park & Rec
- Jason Stanley - Dave & Buster's
- David Garcia - Fairweather
- Nick Messina - Sycamore Den
- Parker Marvin - Bracero
- Reese Honse - El Dorado Cocktail Lounge
- Abraham Jimenez - Juniper and Ivy
We were happy to be there, with the Aero Cocktail Spoon (our single-piece, straight handled, stainless steel bar spoon) featured as a gift to the winning bartender. Both the AERO and the WINGMAN bar spoons are now available for purchase online in our store.
The event was hosted by cocktail consulting company Rumbling Tins Co. at Coin-Op Game Room. Spirits sponsors included Old Forester Bourbon, George Dickel Whiskey, Mount Gay Black Barrel Rum, Rutte Gin, Mandarine Napoleon Cognac, Giffard Liqueurs, Appleton Rum, and Espolon Tequila.
Special thanks goes to the panel of judges, including David Kinsey of Rumbling Tins Co. (also the new 'overlord of elixers' at the yet-to-debut bar & restaurant Kindred in South Park), last year's Young Guns Champion, John Dillon (catch him at Kindred with Kinsey), Candice Woo, founding editor of Eater San Diego, and 2015 National Speed Rack Champion Brittini Rae Peterson! Thanks for lending your time and taste-buds to this epic face-off!
Also, look out for the "Pineapple Express" cocktail by winner Justin "Pigeon" Richardson to be featured on menus around town. His winning cocktail incorporates serrano-infused tequila, mezcal, fresh lime, pineapple, and Demerara syrup for a kick in the tropical pants!
If you visit him at Kettner Exchange, you may catch him using the Aero Cocktail Spoon for stirred drinks, as Standard Spoon was proud to provide the champion with a new tool for his bar kit!
With two years' worth of young bartenders successfully debuted, what will Rumbling Tins Co. come up with next? They've been known to organize brewery/distillery tours to Mexico, and organize charitable events and food drives in the fall, in addition to consulting on new and renewed bar programs across San Diego County (check out their Facebook page for updates). We, for one, hope that the Young Guns event will enjoy a repeat next September.
Rachel Eva & Shawn Michael
At the beginning of August, Craft & Commerce in Little Italy celebrated it's 5th anniversary! This cocktail den has been a special place for us since the day it opened. We discovered the Improved Whiskey Cocktail here, the second chapter in our love for Old Fashioned Cocktails (see this earlier blog post!)
More on the Old Fashioned Cocktail with Joey Hoisescu
We were gone for the month of August, and a lot has been happening in our hometown! Before we left, we visited Craft & Commerce and sat down with Joey Hoisescu, who made a few of his variations on the Old Fashioned - a continuation of our love of this classic drink. Both recipes call for 2 oz of spirit, and 1/2 oz of amaro, omitting the simple syrup or sugar. The inclusion of barrel aged bitters rounds out the cocktail with great depth. Enjoy!
Black Mountain Trail
- 2oz bourbon (Buffalo Trace used here)
- 1/2 oz Amaro Montenegro
- Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters
- Orange twist garnish
- 2oz rye (Dickel Rye used here)
- 1/2 oz Amaro Ciociaro
- Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters
- Orange twist garnish
For a good tutorial on the technique of crafting any stirred drink, like an Old Fashioned or a variation on the theme, read this Blog Post, or learn more at Home Bar Basics. The Resources page on this site also contains a great deal of information, how-to's, and further reading on making drinks.
Many great San Diego bartenders either started at Craft & Commerce, or made their way through this essential cocktail bar at one time or another. Joey has been bartending here for about a year, and has also been a part of the team behind the bar at Ironside Fish & Oyster since it opened in April 2014. He got his start in bartending at the Steakhouse at Azul, La Jolla, and has also put in time as a sommelier at Addison at the Grand Del Mar.
Craft & Commerce Closing for Re-Design!
If it's been a while since you stopped in to see the gents and ladies at Craft & Commerce, you may want to clear some time on your weekend schedule to get down there pronto! The restaurant is closing on Tuesday, September 8th for a major renovation, which includes a change in interior design, an expanded outdoor patio, and the addition of a new concept that will partially share the space (to be announced!). The re-opening is scheduled for early 2016. You will probably catch us there sometime this weekend, getting our hands on the last of those chicken wings and mini corn dogs (Craft will be re-opening with a new menu as well, with Jose "JoJo" Ruiz of Ironside Fish & Oyster as the new chef)!
This weekend will also be your last chance to see Joey, as he's moving on to Denver, CO this month! From what we hear, the Colorado cocktail scene is booming, and while we'll regrettably miss having Joey around, we know that Denver will just be that much better for it!
For a fantastic going-away party, stop by C&C on Tuesday, September 8th after 7PM. Unlimited Food and Beer (until it's gone!) for $25!
Rachel Eva & Shawn Michael
In all seriousness, I'm not a big fan of pineapple or banana, and he made a drink with both. And it's my favorite. Go figure.
The Pineapple Expression is getting a lot of well-deserved attention, and I think it has something to do with that banana cinnamon syrup (oh yeah). It's a summery, tiki-style cocktail, delightful and refreshing, with the spice of the cinnamon adding something very nostalgic to the citrusy, mildly sweet drink. If my mother made cocktails after school instead of freshly baked cookies, they would have been something like this.
Johnson plays with switching up spirits on the new menu; a cocktail like the Pineapple Expression might normally be made with rum (the king spirit of tiki drinks), but this one? Tequila. Johnson says, "you're used to getting a rum pineapple drink, and you're used to getting a spicy margarita-style drink with tequila, so I wanted to mix it up a bit."
So where has the rum gone? Delightfully savory, with a bit of spice, the Rum Garden is made with white rum, lime, celery syrup, and a bit of that serrano spice from San Diego local Boy Drinks World bitters company. The celery and serrano pair well; it's refreshing to have some savory options for those of us that can't handle a lot of sugar.
Speaking of sugar, none of the drinks were too sweet for my low-tolerance taste. Those on the sweeter side were bright and balanced, and thoroughly enjoyed. Tall Tale might have been the sweetest, with rye, lemon and bitters keeping the apricot liqueur and orgeat at bay.
Other originals include top-of-the-menu First Class, with cognac, lime, pomegranate, and fernet-branca rinse, which was refreshingly different (not typically a pom fan either!), and White Summer, with bourbon, vanilla, ginger, lime and mole bitters, a simple and delicious play off a highball, that made me feel all bubbly and sunshiny.
The menu also covers scotch, rye, gin, and vodka, the latter in this stunning cocktail, Under the Rose, which is finished with a mist of rose water that's slightly intoxicating (in a twitterpated kind of way) just by drinking in the smell.
Overall, a bright little menu that's very approachable for those newer to cocktails, but that sneaks in little happy moments for the discerning tippler. And don't wait too long if you see something here you like! With the variety of seasonal ingredients increasing in the coming months, new seasonal cocktails will pop up on the menu weekly, and others may rotate off to make room.
For other hot cocktail spots in San Diego right now, Candice Woo over at the Eater has collected 10 greats for immediate exploration: Where to Drink Right Now
All photos copyright Shawn Michael Michael.
One of my favorite cocktails in San Diego right now! Light, refreshing, tart and slightly sweet, with a touch of savory spices (cardamom, clove, nutmeg), what I call a "delightful" cocktail, on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Leigh Lacap is responsible for this beauty. He introduced us to sherry cocktails at Ironside, and put this one on the new menu at Coin Op. (tip: free play games the last Sunday of every month!) Here's the recipe for you cocktail lovers!
The Bohemian Revolt
- 1.5 oz Manzanilla sherry
- .5 oz Geijer Glogg
- .5 oz St George pear brandy
- .75 oz fresh lemon juice
- shy .5 oz honey syrup (3:1)
- freshly grated nutmeg
- fresh mint garnish
Shake and serve on pebbled ice, artfully garnished.
Coin Op's approach to cocktails is not what you expect when you hear the word "barcade" - this is part of the allure we appreciate about this great neighborhood spot. Sip on a cocktail like The Pastry War (mezcal, china china amer, lemon & sugar) or The Nether Region (mint-tea infused genever, fernet, ginger, lime & soda), and play Off Road or Pinball. The new menu has a three-tiered cocktail section: for those who are looking at an introduction to craft cocktails, start at level 1, and others who delight in more complex flavors, level up.
They even have a house interpretation of the infamous Fireball shot (if that's your thing).