I started out as a bouncer in Boston. The first question they asked me was, ‘Can you handle yourself in a fight?’ The main clientele was blacks and skinheads. They all liked playing pool and they all liked Toots and the Maytals—they just didn’t like each other. This was the late ’90s.
When I moved down here, I got a job at Maximo’s and at Bistro Maison de Ville.
I also worked at Stella, cooking. I didn’t have the best time. I realized I didn’t want to be in fine dining, that it was ridiculous, being yelled at. So I took a job at Preservation Hall. Started sweeping floors, got yelled at for sweeping the floors wrong, but learned; also, cutting hair, taking care of the cats.
There was a musician named Marvin Kimball. He was one of the guys back in the ’50s, with George Lewis, and now he had Alzheimer’s. I’ve had this hairstyle [pointing to shaved head] for a really long time.
They told me, ‘Don’t worry. He has Alzheimer’s. He’s legally blind…’ What it really meant was, help him go to the bathroom, pick him up and carry him to the bathroom, and cut his hair.
Later, when I went back into restaurants, I didn’t want to cook anymore. I started waiting tables, first at Bourbon House. They had 65 bourbons. ‘What the F?’ I wanted to learn about every single one. That’s when I started reading about Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. I was like, cocktails—vodka cranberry, sour mix. I didn’t like any of it—cocktails were not good. The Cape Codder, the Cuba Libre… Blech. Now I love making cocktails. I love coming up with names, trying to take weird ingredients and make them work together.
It was when I was managing over at Elizabeth’s that I made my first cocktail list. I met Ann Tuennerman; she came in for lunch. She looked at my cocktail menu and I had a Ghetto Fabulous Mimosa on there. ‘Why is it ghetto fabulous?’ ‘Because it comes in a plastic cup.’
When Sylvain came in and asked me to run their bar program, I did. I was the general manager and the bar manager. It was a lot. Then Sainte Marie, same thing. I don’t want to tell people to go clean the bathroom, how it directly affects your tips, and how in the service industry, you serve, and if you serve, you make more money. I had college kids working, but I needed lifers. The challenge in the bar-and-restaurant industry is that everyone is on their way somewhere else. They’re tending bar or waiting tables because they’re going to do something else. It’s just hard. As soon as something was running smooth, I knew two people were going to quit.
I’m happy here at the Erin Rose. I don’t care if I’m cracking open a Bud Light or making a Manhattan. I like making people happy. They call us professional socializers; that’s what we do. I don’t get offended if people don’t like what I make. If you don’t like it, just say so. I’ve known you for seven seconds, so I don’t have a whole lot to go on.
The reason I wanted to create this cocktail for Shannon Powell, a drummer, is that he’s a professional socializer and this whole city is about rhythm. He’s so energetic and he’s back there with a huge smile on his face. I just love his style of drumming. I love watching him play drums. He has a small kit, but he makes it sound really big.
When I did my project Jazz and Jenever, he was the band I hired. It was Shannon, David Torkanowsky and Roland Guerin. We’d pick a drink, pair it with a song, and pass out the drink and they’d play the song. You could taste the connection. I started that when I was at Sainte Marie.
Thinking about how to make this cocktail, I wanted to keep it simple because you might have to make nine of these right now, and you also have to change out the frozen Irish coffee machine, and you’re out of ice [smiles]. Tending bar is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
1 ounce Bombay Sapphire
½ ounce yellow Chartreuse
4 dashes rhubarb bitters
Stir first three ingredients with ice. Top with grapefruit juice.