Adam Hodak: Don't be pretentious
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.
Justin Frumkes via Adam Hodak
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.