If you’ve been following the growing cocktail scene in Dallas — or just listening to the gravelly-voiced tales of head barman Eddie “Lucky” Campbell — you probably know that the Chesterfield has seen its share of drama in its brief six months of life. On Monday, though, everything was chill as the Main Street gastropub said goodbye to Rookie of the Year bartender (if there were such a thing) Kevin Gray.
Gray didn’t expect to be working behind the bar anywhere, much less one of the city’s prime cocktail spots. For years he’s been the man behind CocktailEnthusiast.com, a blog devoted to spirit reviews and drinking culture. But such is his expertise that one of Campbell’s former bartenders asked Gray to help staff the newly opening Chesterfield late last year, and he couldn’t say no.
Now the enterprising and affable Plano native is off to join the Dallas operation of online lifestyle publication UrbanDaddy. For his last night at the Chesterfield, he ditched the ceremonial barman’s vest and poured pretty much bartender’s choice all evening for a growing crowd of well-wishers.
“As proud as we are, it’s a sad day for us,” said Campbell, among the city’s preeminent cocktail corps.
What has Gray learned in his six months on the job? That it’s harder than it looks, that customers can be condescending and stingy but more often understanding and gracious, that there’s a certain choreography to being one of multiple staff behind the bar.
What have we learned about him? That he’s talented enough to have eased into the formidable Chesterfield cocktail menu with little behind-the-bar experience going in. Also, that he’s a huge fan of Angostura bitters, the distinctive Trinidadian-based formula that’s a staple of classic cocktails like the Manhattan and Old-Fashioned.
Typically Angostura is used in small amounts — a dash here, a few there. But Gray’s favorite creation in the last six months is something he calls either Das Boot or Dark Water, a light-rum and Falernum mixture boldly infused with a full ounce of Angostura, as well as lime and sugar.
That’s some adventurous stuff. Delicious, too. Gray also poured Negronis punctuated with mezcal and grapefruit bitters, but as often as he could, he reached for the distinctive bitters bottle with the oversized label.
“Everything’s got Angostura tonight,” an observer remarked.
“As everything should,” Gray chirped.
Finally, Fernet found its way into the proceedings, and the funereal farewells were lost in festivity.
See you around, Kevin. Was great having you behind the bar.
Chesterfield’s head barman, Eddie “Lucky” Campbell, toasts the departing Gray.
— Marc Ramirez