Five Things You Missed from Last Night's Mix-Off at the Chesterfield

Categories: Events

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photo by foodbitch
Last night The Chesterfield hosted an event called the Mix-Off Battle. It featured five local bartenders whose cocktails were pitted against one another in the name of awareness for Chefs For Farmers. Here's what you missed if you weren't there.

1. A full house.
I laughed a bit when I noticed a single sheet of paper taped to the wall with "Occupancy Limit 49" printed on it. The Chesterfield was packed with folks excited to try the tequila-laden cocktails from five local celebutenders. (Yeah, I made that up. Get over it.)

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photo by foodbitch
2. A whole lot of Patrón.
Patrón and fruit juices, Patrón and bitters, Patrón and "mesquite smoked agave?" There were five different concoctions at battle last night, and they were all unique. The crowd was asked to vote for the best on special ballots created just for the mix-off. And while it was about taste, it was also about personality, which leads me to my next point ...

3. Fancy pants bartenders who like to showboat.
We've all noticed the trend toward celebrity bartenders -- or celebutenders, as they're now called. With their outfits as tailored and their facial hair as manscaped as their cocktails are crafted, these guys have risen to the top of their game: Kyle Hilla from Bolsa, Abe Bedell from Oak, Lucky Campbell from The Chesterfield, Brad Hensarling from The Usual in Fort Worth and Jason Kosmas from Marquee. Lucky from The Chesterfield was noticeably comfortable operating a cocktail shaker in each hand, passing drinks back to attractive women and even jumping up onto the bar to give a little speech.

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photo by foodbitch
4. A couple bits of news.
Barman Jason Kosmas is starting his own spirits company, and local celebuchef Matt McCallister has a new restaurant coming to the Design District, which Scott mentioned a while back.

5. Rubbing elbows ...
... and hips and butts with lots and lots and lots of people, all in the name of trying tequila, sure, but it was more about pre-partying in advance of the big Chef's For Farmers event coming up on May 6. It's looking like the foodie event of the year -- a big party where all the local celebrity chefs come out to play and all of the proceeds go to charity so you can feel good about drinking way too much wine. Buy your tickets online and join the party.

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Fortworthdrinks
Fortworthdrinks

I first want to say that my last comment was more tongue in cheek than anything else and I understand where your coming from with your comments.  As one of the people that you're talking about (My name is Brad Hensarling and I own and bartend at The Usual in Fort Worth), I do want to say that since The Usual opened a little over 2 years ago there have been some really unexpected things that I've had to learn to deal with.  For the sake of this conversation, it has been learning to deal with the media.  Going back to Scruffygeist's remark, shopping at Central Market a lot is one of those things too.  

I got into the whole cocktail thing out of boredom. About 7 years ago, me and my long time business partner Jon Carney, took over The Chat Room Pub.  We were able to get the bar for cheap because it was a failing business.  That being said, we could't afford to pay many employees at the time, so much of the bartending fell to me.  A lot of times I would unlock the doors at 4pm and no one would walk in for hours so after getting really good at pool and racking up a 1.6 billion point high score on Playboy pinball, I started dusting off old cocktail books that I had inherited with the bar.  A few years later The Chat Room had turned into a successful and profitable business and a building down the street came up for lease.  That's how The Usual was born.  The thought process was nothing more than, "These drinks taste really good.  I bet people would buy them." I didn't know that a "Cocktail Renaissance" was going on.  I did have genuine interest in a hobby that was turning into a business, but we all know that business is driven by profit.

Here's where the media comes into play.  Obviously when a new bar opens nightlife reporters want to come in, get the scoop, and write reviews.  What they noticed was that, for better or worse, we were taking a different approach to how we produce drinks.  It was new and interesting, and their job is to find new and interesting things to share with their readers.  From the interest that grew from those articles the bar started getting busier.  The general public started coming in to check it out and develop their own opinions about what we were doing.  When people develop opinions they share their opinions with others.  Thus is born the word of mouth "buzz".  

From there liquor companies started catching wind of what we were doing and because they're inclined to promote their products in new ways, they wanted to set up events.  The reason that they do events at bars like The Usual is so they can take pictures and write more stories to give to their marketing machines and get their brand out to the press.  Does this sound familiar Patron?  (The money that they spent on those events was also very helpful in the beginning, so I felt kind of obligated to do them.)  This generates more articles about the head bartender and the bar.  Eventually I had people calling from every major media outlet wanting to do stories on "Holiday Cocktails" or "Beat The Heat With The New Summer Cooler" or anything that you can think of along those lines.

As a business owner I would be absolutely crazy turn down being on the cover of DFW.com or NBC wanting me to speak about what I do on camera so they could re-air it a thousand times.  It's free promotion and it gives me a chance each time to explain to my customers what exactly it is that I do and why I do it.  I have a responsibility to my partners and my staff to make sure that I get as many people spending money at The Usual as I can and I can't be faulted for that.  Yes, people walk up to me frequently and tell me that they saw me on TV and want to talk about the first time they had a Pisco Sour in Peru, but seeking "celebrity" was never the point.  The point has always been to use better knowledge of techniques, products, and ingredients to create a better product.

That all being said, here's how I can relate to Kergo and Scruffygeist.  I do know bartenders that have hired PR firms.  I know some that have quit their jobs to become "mixology" consultants.  I know bartenders that will stare down there mustaches at customers for not knowing the 5 different varietals of aromatic grapes that are traditionally used to make Pisco.  I know bartenders that will straw taste your Crown and Coke before it goes over the bar (Scott Reitz, I'm with you on that one).  It's really fucking annoying!  In general, I would always prefer a bartender that intuitively knows what I need and is friendly over one that can recite all 800 drinks listed in the Savoy but can't realize that my drink is empty.  A Fedora and a Japanese barspoon do not a bartender make.

While there is a lot of what can be viewed as "jackassery" going on right now I don't think we'll stop seeing bartenders' pictures in the paper any time soon.  Sorry guys.  The reality of the situation is that chefs are adopting fresh juices and herbs into their bars in lieu of sweet and sour.  Once you start using fresh juices, bartenders have to understand a few simple ratios of acid and sugar to make drinks taste the waythey should.  This in turn begets "cocktails".  As long as chefs aren't willing to go back to using artificial ingredients the days of sweet and sour are numbered and cocktails will abound.  Also, considering that alcohol is the main profit driver of a restaurant and it is naturally desirable for restaurant owners to promote high margin products, you will see restaurants using their marketing dollars to promote the fact that they've got "the best bartender in town".  There will be "celebrity" bartenders just like there are "celebrity" chefs now, but time and the ability to produce a unique and desirable product will weed out the celebrities from the real bartenders.  There's a difference between Thomas Keller and Fabio Viviani (mostly that Thomas doesn't do Domino's commercials, he just runs his restaurants very well).

As the bartenders and bars that are adopting classic recipes and fresh juices get some more experience under their belt I think things will even out.  Right now though, ordering a cocktail can be a very frustrating experience for a lot of customers.  Some bartenders think that it's okay to take the "it takes time to create perfection" approach.  Some are just not trained well enough to be able to make a consistently good drink.  Some bartenders read one book about bitters and start getting a superiority complex.  The "craft" bartending community would do itself a favor to remember that if we're going to unleash an idea on customers that we're making drinks that take longer to make, are more expensive, and are often full of shit that no one's heard of but the guy that created the drink, we might want to put a focus on making as many friends out of customers as we can in the process.  

Fortworthdrinks
Fortworthdrinks

What's wrong with being the world's most famous garbage man?

Kergo 1 Spaceship
Kergo 1 Spaceship

Nothing, but when they get pub for doing such a banal task, you important folks are minimized.  I'm in the "garbage business", and I used to be in the "bar" business, and nothing glorious arises out of either.  One is slingin' drinks to drunks, and one is pickin' up trash from folk. That simple.

ps-If my garbage man wears a fedora next week, will the DO write a blurb on him?  Get it?

Mervis
Mervis

And here is where I will stick up for the beertenders at a beer bars.

You can walk into any bar and get a whiskey,rum/coke, gin,vodka/tonic etc or other nice mixoligist cocktail and most people will be happy. (and kudos to cocktail innovation)

I frequent the Saucers and to watch these folks deal with customers who have no idea what to order or are intimidated by 80 plus taps is truly a customer service work of art.

My name is Mervis and I am a Beer Geek. (not a snob, drink whatever crap you want)  

Kergo 1 Spaceship
Kergo 1 Spaceship

And don't forget a bunch of +ssholes with fedora's, and lame, lonely customers.

ps-When barkeeps and garbage men become stars, it's time to retreat!

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

"OMG you guys, I saw (insert bartender name here) yesterday shopping at Central Market! They're so hot in person, I was so star-struck! Eeeeeeeee!"

A Facebook post you'll never see.

unclekrud
unclekrud

Dang!  Missed a chance to rub butts with foodbitch.

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