Tag Archives: Kevin Gray

At TOTC’s national bar battle, Dallas’ Bar Smyth showed it could pack a good punch (and a few good cocktails besides)

At Tales of the Cocktail 2013
The Bar Smyth crew — sharing space with Chicago’s Barrel House Flat — was one of eight bars facing off against a deluge of humanity.

You can’t say Dallas’ Bar Smyth didn’t try. Did any of the other half-dozen establishments facing off at Tales of the Cocktail’s Bare-Knuckle Bar Fight sport a derby-hatted fire eater?  Could any of them claim to wield as original a punch as mobile cocktail service poured out of a backpack keg?

That was Bar Smyth, going big and gloves-off in its debut at the nation’s largest cocktail conference in New Orleans. Friday night’s annual showdown-slash-party pitted bar crew against bar crew for yearlong bragging rights, measuring bars on the quality of their beverages, sense of atmosphere and ability to churn out cocktails for the great, buzzing tides of humanity thirsting for drink. It was a madhouse. It was supposed to be.

Tales of the Cocktail 2013
Smyth’s record-album covers evoked the Dallas speakeasy’s 70’s-esque decor, part of the judging criteria.

The chaotic hordes began forming outside the Jackson Brewery’s microscopic entryway well ahead of the event’s 10 p.m. start time and before long resembled a ravenous weasel trying to poke its nose into some tiny field mouse’s hiding hole. Once inside, the senses were dazzled by a raging tumult, tables piled with pasta trays, a spunky rockabilly band and monitors spilling footage of Muhammad Ali.

Tales of the Cocktail 2013
The event was sponsored by The 86 Co., a new spirit line that includes Tequila Cabeza.
Tales of the Cocktail 2013
The drink lineup from New York City’s The Daily included a chamomile Negroni and a watermelon-shiso Collins.

But people were here for the drinks, and of those there was plenty: Eight bars in all, plucked from around the country by The 86 Co., the just-launched spirit line that sponsored this year’s event. The company’s aim was to showcase notable up-and-coming bars rather than the established stalwarts of years past: There was Miami’s Broken Shaker, with its Santeria vibe and a killer banana-mint daiquiri; Queens’ Sweet Leaf with its Jose Camel, a tequila-mezcal pachanga laced with coffee liqueur and Punt e Mes; the two were my favorite sips of the night.

Tales of the Cocktail 2013
The atmosphere at Miami’s Broken Shaker recalled a botanica store.

Los Angeles’ Old Lightning threw down with a mezcal Negroni. New York City’s The Daily had a popcorn machine and an air of uniformed aplomb amid the fray. Chicago’s Barrel House Flat poured shots from a bottle labeled “Encyclopedia Brown” – a tantalizing formula of Rittenhouse Rye, Punt e Mes, Amaro Montenegro, Cynar, Angostura bitters and salt.

I failed to find San Diego’s Polite Provisions in the maelstrom, but Boston’s Citizen Public House and Oyster Bar was remarkably hospitable considering its three-deep crowd and the fact that it was bartender Sabrina Kershaw’s birthday; the bar’s red-velvety Negroni variation, called The New Black, was as delicious as it was alluring.

Tales of the Cocktail 2013
Sweet Leaf, of Queens, served up one of my favorite drinks of the night, with tequila, mezcal and coffee liqueur.

Dallas’ Bar Smyth made the most of its prime real estate on the brewery’s second floor. Smyth barmen Mike Martensen, Omar Yeefoon, Josh Hendrix, Julian Pagan and, inexplicably, Standard Pour’s Brian McCullough slung drinks as fast as they could muster. The crew donned Lone Star aprons, and bar host Ryan Sumner stirred up the crowd, occasionally from atop the bar counter – whooping and hollering, ringing a bell, kick-starting choruses of “Deep In The Heart of Texas.”

And despite a superior Cuba Libre anchoring its drink lineup, it was what Smyth had conjured beyond the bar that set it apart: Bar-back Charlie Ferrin blazed a trail through the darkness, wowing anyone within eyeshot with his fire-eating prowess. (“You only see the bartender side of me,” the longtime circus performer explained.) And bartender Mate Hartai waded through the crowd with a handmade backpack keg and a Texas-stamped helmet, pouring shots of Smyth’s Mexican Monk, a habanero-watermelon spin on a Tom Collins.

Tales of the Cocktail 2013
Smyth’s Mate Hartai poured drinks from his handmade backpack keg.
Tales of the Cocktail 2013
Hartai’s boozy contraption.

Texas represented well: There was Austin star barman Bill Norris; The 86 Co.’s Jason Kosmas, the bartender extraordinaire recently relocated to Austin from Dallas; Emily Perkins of Dallas’ Victor Tango; Bonnie Wilson of The Ranch at Las Colinas; Kevin Gray of CocktailEnthusiast.com and Hypeworthy’s Nico Martini.

When it was all over, Boston’s Public House had taken People’s Choice honors, no doubt aided by its giveaway signature cozies and fans (brilliant in light of the unspeakable humidity) and a machine dispensing frozen Julep Slushies. Then it was time for the judges’ decision: “We got to try drinks tonight from some of the best bars in the world,” one of them announced. “Those of you who tend bar know what it takes. Not just cocktail creativity, but teamwork, speed and execution. We know what it takes to make people happy not just this one night, but every night of the year.” And with that it was declared that The Daily of New York City had taken top prize.

Ah, Dallas. There’s always next year.

Tales of the Cocktail 2013
Lone Star pride: Smyth’s Ryan Sumner works up the crowd.
Tales of the Cocktail 2013
The fired-up champion bartenders of New York’s The Daily.

Adventures with Tony: Cocktail luminary hits town to help promote new rum line


The First Mate, my fave of Abou-Ganim’s three rum cocktails

For the last 30 years, Tony Abou-Ganim has been behind bars. Rum-pa-dum-pum.

The joke was his, and here was a dude whose wit and charm were well steeped in experience. Last week, the Las Vegas-based cocktail veteran – author of The Modern Mixologist: Contemporary Classic Cocktails – was in Dallas to lead an interactive mixology seminar with rum as the main course.

The event marked the launch of a six-city tour promoting Shellback Rum, a new rum line produced in Barbados. It was one of the better interactive cocktail events Barmoire has been to, with each attendee set before a well-stocked mixologist’s mise en place loaded with bar tools, fruit, syrups, glassware and, of course, the prime ingredient, rum.

imageAbou-Ganim, author of The Master Mixologist: Classic Contemporary Cocktails (David Grote Photography)

Abou-Ganim, personable and as bald as an Academy Award, has been around. In 1998, Steven Wynn hired him to develop the cocktail program at Bellagio Las Vegas, and four years later he won the Bacardi Martini World Grand Prix (according to his biography, one of only two Americans to ever do so). He’s appeared on TODAY, Iron Chef America, Fox News and Good Morning America. (Back when he wanted to be an actor, he was also in an Alka-Seltzer ad.) Most recently, he’s author of Vodka Distilled, in which he labors to clear vodka’s typically bad name among serious craft bartenders.

He arrived in Dallas a day early, and being fortunate enough to happen upon him at Uptown’s Standard Pour (where barman Eddie “Lucky” Campbell was throwing down), I then accompanied him and his crew to the recently opened Establishment, where we found the Cocktail Enthusiast himself, Kevin Gray. Good times.


 Our seminar workstations. 

But of course it was the rum Abou-Ganim was here for, and by the next evening he was at Dallas’ Marc Events venue in comfy red Crocs and signature toque. He dropped a bit of rum history, including the origins of “grog” (the watered-down rum that sailors drank with lime – to avoid scurvy – and sugar) and the term “shellbacks” (mariners who crossed the equator).

Then he led us in a mass preparation of three of his own rum recipe twists using the weapons laid before us. We muddled, we shook, we poured. Someone broke a glass. By the end of the evening, we’d made and tried three commendable drinks – the Milestone Mojito, the Deck Hand Daiquiri and my personal favorite, the First Mate (recipe below), made with Shellback’s crème-brulee-like spiced rum.

imageThe Milestone Mojito, another of Abou-Ganim’s creations

The tour will continue throughout the spring and summer in San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Miami, finishing up on August 16 – National Rum Day – in Los Angeles.

FIRST MATE — Tony Abou-Ganim

1½ oz Shellback spiced rum

1 oz cinnamon simple syrup

2 oz apple juice (unfiltered works best)

1 oz lemon juice

Ginger beer

Put rum, syrup and juices into a shaker, then add ice and shake until well blended. Strain into an ice-filled Collins glass, top with chilled ginger beer and stir to mix. Garnish with lemon spirals and a “fan” of thin apple slices.

— Marc Ramirez, posted 3/17/13