Ask the Bartender: the "dandy-fied brat pack of mixologists" responds to Tucker Shaw
Sean Kenyon knows how to pour out both drinks and advice. A third-generation bar man with almost 25 years behind the bar, he is a student of cocktail history, a United States Bartenders Guild-certified Spirits Professional and a BAR Ready graduate of the prestigious Beverage Alcohol Resource Program. You can find him behind the bar at Squeaky Bean -- and here every week, where he'll answer your questions. But right now, he wants to offer a defense of the "dandy-fied brat pack."
Although it's been a week since Tucker Shaw wrote his blind-item column in the Denver Post, I just got back into town and can't let this slide. One of his bits of restaurant gossip reads as follows: "Which hotel bar serves a better martini than any of Denver's bratpack of dandy-fied mixologists?" Honestly, I'd love to have a martini at the bar to which this refers; I am always up for a proper cocktail. But was the purpose of the item really to take on Denver's up-and-coming bartenders?
In one short statement, Tucker, you have succeeded in demeaning the work of many of Colorado's dedicated bar men and women.
And I have taken offense.
Two-and-a-half years ago, Bryan Dayton (Oak at 14th), Mike Henderson (Root Down), Ky Belk (Elway's) and I met to establish the Colorado Chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild. Our first meeting in November 2008 was attended by ten bartenders. Today, we have over 150 members. Our goal is to educate, network and give back to our community through multiple charity events -- and our members are dedicated to that purpose.
Here in Denver, I have seen our craft grow in leaps and bounds over the past few years, and many in our local community have won national and international competitions. But while we always look for new and interesting spirits and methods, our vocation is firmly rooted in the classic formulas and up to 200-year-old recipes.
One of those recipes, the martini, is as iconic and as classic as they get. Not to refute your claim of that a certain hotel bar has an excellent martini, but I know that a good number of our "brat pack of dandy-fied mixologists" also make amazing martinis. (Gin, of course.)
I went to Dictionary.com to break down the definitions of "brat pack" and "dandified," so that I might better understand your slight:
brat pack -noun
a successful, highly confident, and often close-knit group of famous young people, as actors.
dan·di·fied -adjective1. (of a man) Showing excessive concern about his clothes or appearance
2. Self-consciously sophisticated or elaborate
Okay, "brat pack." We are a close-knit group, but we are inclusive. We welcome any and all to our meetings, events and charitable functions. Some of us are young (I am in the higher age range at 42), mostly confident (working in front of the dining public every night takes a good bit of confidence) none famous, and although we are not actors, we are entertainers. It's what bartenders do.
It's when I get into "dandified" that I get pissed. Because the definition implies that we are shallow, more concerned about appearance than substance. In the world of cocktails, style points mean nothing. I'll be the first to tell you that a crappy drink served by a well-dressed bartender is still a crappy drink. As well, a beautiful-looking cocktail has to taste great or it still sucks. Many bartenders that I know are extremely thoughtful and passionate about their cocktails, whether that means knowing the history of a classic or tying together newer spirits and ingredients with respect to terroir and flavor profiles. But most important, we are all bartenders first; that mixology bit is secondary.
To me, calling a bartender a mixologist is like calling a janitor a custodial engineer -- a fancier term for the same thing. A great bartender can smile, carry on a conversation and still create fantastic cocktails. And the sum of a great cocktail is the overall experience, not just a function of the recipe and preparation.
Tucker, we've only met twice, and briefly at that. But I have a ton of respect for you. I own your book A Man's Place Is Behind the Bar, and have read your work for years. So I would like to invite you out for a drink. In fact, let's have a martini at that hotel bar that you wrote about. Let's talk about the state of Denver bartending or maybe fishing, it doesn't matter....
Then I would like to figure out a time when we could host a cocktail hour, where you could meet and get to know our dandyfied brat pack. We will create some cocktails for the event and include some classics as well (I know you like a proper Side Car). I'll even offer up the Squeaky Bean on a Sunday or Monday night. This is not so we can attack you; we don't wish to do that. But there are many great stories and people in our community, and I'd love for you to get to know them.