Most people don't know this about me, but I make a mean margarita. My well-salted skill comes from some time behind the bar mixing drinks. But before you get any tequila-soaked visions of Tom Cruise in Cocktail I must admit: I was a bartender at Chi-Chi's — where I wore a red, collarless shirt adorned with chili peppers (that I still own). It was the '90s after all.
But I loved it — every frozen margarita after fruity frozen margarita. Mix in a few pina coladas, and I was a regular blender whiz.
It may have taken a few Band-Aids to develop my adept knife skills with limes and other assorted fruit. But like any Woody Boyd worth his bar towel, I picked up a few things — like the ability to carry on a conversation between the whir of the blenders and how to give just enough attention to everyone sitting at the bar.
I also learned that you probably don't want any margarita that comes out of a blender. Our house margaritas were whipped up in 44-gallon garbage cans and pulled from a tap. Nothing good comes from garbage cans or in batches that big.
So my recommendation was always Jose Cuervo Especial Gold, Grand Marnier, margarita mix and lime over ice with a nice salted rim. If you could splurge for the 1800 tequila, all the better. With chips and salsa on the side? It's a fiesta.
Now, comparing my version of tending bar with what happens at places like Society Lounge, the Velvet Tango Room and the Spotted Owl is like putting Taco Bell next to authentic Mexican food. And while I'm mostly a beer drinker, I love how our cocktail scene has evolved. It feels like a natural extension of our food and beer culture, with a focus on quality and creativity. Where once Velvet Tango Room's Paulius Nasvytis was the only one serving an expert French 75, you can now find a pretty masterful version at a wine bar in Lakewood and a host of other spots.
"There are a lot of crafts in this town," offers Will Hollingsworth, who opened Tremont's Spotted Owl in October. "Guys and ladies who do something really well and take that attitude and culture and history of this town of making things without being snotty about it."
As a former bartender, I like that philosophy for our town: top-shelf products with a well-liquor attitude. I can raise a toast to that any day.