Adam Hodak: Don't be pretentious

Categories: Behind the Bar

adam hodak bartending.jpg
Justin Frumkes via Adam Hodak
In this interview, Adam Hodak -- the beverage manager for Frank Bonanno's restaurants who's frequently behind the stick at Green Russell, Osteria Marco and Russell's Smokehouse -- weighs in on how he got to where he is, the night he pepper-sprayed himself and the irony of lime usage at Mexican restaurants.

Westword: How long have you been a bartender? What made you get into the profession?

Adam Hodak: It's been almost nine years this April. I started in college. We had two bars on campus, and one of them was an Irish pub. I made friends with the owners. Bartenders were typically seniors, but I was a little older junior, so I got a job younger and then worked there for three and a half years.

I graduated, moved to Denver, and started looking for jobs for a couple of months, but I realized I didn't really want to do business stuff in an office. I'd always wanted to go to culinary school, but my family has always been about normal education. But I'd gotten my normal degree, and I decided to bartend. So I found Frank Bonanno and thought, "This guy really cares about food." I went and applied, and I was the first person he hired at Osteria. I'd never served food -- I was just a fast bartender. I wasn't an idiot or some random sloppy dude, but holding three plates was interesting.

I've worked for Frank going on five years this summer. I was hired at Osteria, and we had a straightforward, simple bar menu that had a couple of takes on cocktails and a lot of vodka; this was before cocktails had really hit Colorado. After about six months, I started really getting into it -- I'd always loved bartending, but I did my first competition and came in a close second in the 42 Below cocktail world cup. That's what hooked me. I started getting into spirits and I started studying, teaching myself and researching flavor profiles. Another nine months or so after that, Frank was going to open Bones. I volunteered to do a cocktail list. It really opened me up to the world of Asian flavor -- sake is one of my favorite things to drink; I drink more sake than red wine. I did a whole staff training that Frank sat in on, and I think that's when I impressed him. A few months later, they asked me to be beverage director.

Bartending rule to live by: Don't be pretentious, either the bartender or the guest. Bartenders always call each other out, but don't call out the guest. And if you're the guest, don't tell me that absinthe isn't real or rye isn't whiskey. I don't tell you that tax laws don't exist if I find out you're a tax lawyer. In the end, it's all about education and not making people upset.

Five words to describe your drink list: Innovative, unique, balanced, fun and enjoyable.


Location Info

Green Russell

1422 Larimer St., Denver, CO

Category: Music

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9 comments
Philo99
Philo99

Ahhh the ironing of this article is better than a barrel aged scotch.

The Green Russell is the definition of pretentious. I thought that was their schtick, because the place has nothing else going for it other than a schtick.

The one and only time I went there the bartender argued with my girlfriend for 10 minutes when she told him she didn't like gin. He kept telling her how stupid she was for thinking she didn't like gin. I eventually had to tell him to shut his mouth and walk away.

I don't need to pay for overpriced drinks served by douchenozzles. A good bar should be about giving the client what they want, period.

Mike F
Mike F

Adam is a great bartender and an asset to the Denver drinking culture. Keep it up!

Filippo
Filippo

I agree with the comment by Grrr. Mr. Hodak says "don't be pretentious" and then the Green Russal is really pretentious. Furthermore he says "Five words to describe your drink list: Innovative, unique, balanced, fun and enjoyable."... And I would say that this is pretentious. I disagree with him because I think that a great bartender has to be pretentious to improve his skills.

Uncledave8
Uncledave8

Amen on the no real limes in margaritas beef.  Thank God Pinche Taqueria gets it!  Finally.  Just say no to neon green bottled mix crappy margaritas.  I send 'em back - sorry but what you served me was not a margarita.

Grrr
Grrr

I think this article headline/title is ironic since we tried to go to the acclaimed Green Russell on Wednesday night and received the most pretentious service at the door I've ever had in town. I understand that GR is incredibly popular right now, but I felt like I was being questioned and denied access at a Vegas hot spot or something. (I must say, we were all Colorado-chic dressed, late twenties and thirties small group having just come from a nice business dinner across the street--not like we were a group of giggling 21 year olds).

Mantonat
Mantonat

Just to make sure we all agree on what "pretentious" means: Attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed.

I don't think being pretentious is a good thing under any circumstances. 

Filippo
Filippo

Dear Grrr, just go to the Bitter bar for the best of the best in matter of cocktails. Cheers.

Country Grammar
Country Grammar

Grrr...there are a lot of places to drink great cocktails in Denver. You don't need to travel up 36 (although the Bitter Bar is fantastic). Green Russell might have given you a bad taste, but you have to call ahead for reservations. Believe me, it doesn't matter who you are. The hostesses are little shits regardless of how you're dressed or who you are (although once you get in, you'll enjoy yourself). Try Steuben's, Root Down, Linger, Colt & Grey, Euchlid Hall, Adrift, Charcoal, Williams & Graham, Cafe | Bar....the list really does go on, and on.

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