Episode 5: Interview with Tony Abou-Ganim

Episode 5: Interview with Tony Abou-Ganim

Hello Movers & Shakers. It is your host April Wachtel and today my guest is the one and only Tony Abou-Ganim, also known as “The Modern Mixologist.” Tony is a legend in our community, he's written books, launched iconic cocktail menus across the country. He won three iron chef competitions. He's a natural ambassador for the US bartender’s Guild and so much more. On the show today, we talk about how he got bartending, bringing craft cocktails to stadiums and pairing fruit and cocktails. Tony, it's wonderful to have on the show today. Thanks so much for joining us.

Tony: It’s great to be on your show, thank you.

April: It's been a long time. How are things going in Vegas?

Tony: Las Vegas is fantastic. I love living here. I love the restaurant/ bar, communities. Every great chef is here. The bartending world has exploded since I moved here in 1998. I'm a big bicycle guy like you know. The weather and climate here for bicycle riding is fantastic. It's a complete package for me.

April: Amazing. I would love to discuss a whole bunch of things. You've been leader in the cocktail world for a very long time, so I'd love to tap into a little bit of your history in the business. Some of the things you've been up to and you're looking forward to and perhaps even get your ideas on future of the cocktail world as we know it. So do you mind... I know you've answered this question a million times in other interviews, but just a couple words on how you got in the business and why you stayed at it?

Tony: I was very lucky to grow up in a bar family. My cousin, Helen David, along with my mother opened the Brass Rail Bar in Port Huron, Michigan in 1937, so as you know three years after the repeal of prohibition and throws of the Great Depression. Her father passes, leaves her and her mother an ice-cream parlor. You can guess not many people are spending little money they had on ice-cream. Her and her mother converted the ice-cream parlor into a bar on June 15, 1937, and she ran it until her death at the age of 91 in 2006.

In 1980, my father convinced Helen to put a shaker in my hand teach me to be a bartender. As you know in 1980, when you tell people you're a bartender, they would always respond with what do you wanna do. It's not really a profession, was not something that people aspired to as a long-term career. Even Helen who ran the bar for nearly seven years was hesitant at first to make me a bartender, but in the end she was pretty happy the way things turned out.

April: I'm curious. Why was she hesitant? Was it because she thought that there wasn’t a future in the industry for you?

Tony: Yeah, absolutely. She wanted to send me to culinary school to become a chef. In 1980, being a chef even though not celebrated it like they are today was still much more an honorable profession or career choice in the culinary field; where bartending was always what you did while you were finishing school, or you're working on your own acting career—not something you wanted, your son or daughter to pursue as livelihood as a career as a profession. She was a little hesitant. I actually tried the whole chef thing for about two weeks and it was no fun. Small hot little kitchen, long hours, no tips, no pretty girls to wait on. I had to get back onto the bar.

April: Yeah, I've often thought that if I didn't make it in bartending, I'd be sushi chef because I can't stand the heat in the kitchen.

Tony: It’s right on point so I got out of the kitchen and never looked back. But I do love to cook. We approach cocktails much like a chef approaches cooking or maybe a pastry chef with a little more accuracy—but balance, complexity, featuring the base spirit, not killing the steak with salt and pepper but accenting it with bitters, and those are the same approach to making a great cocktail going to making a great plate of food. I love the way the culinary and bar world has come together.

When I started, for most of my career behind the bar, the only time we saw the chef was at the end of his shift when he came out to get a shift drink. So we always took care of the chef so you get a better meal than the waiters. Now there's that collaboration at Libertine Social. I'm working with Shawn all the time on collaborations and drinking food pairings and utilizing ingredients that he's cooking with that I can use in cocktails. It really is a true collaboration between the bar and the kitchen today.

April: This is something that's always been curious to me. You see a lot of wine and beer pairings, I mean that's pretty standard, but rarely do people pay cocktails and food, and I'm wondering where you think the sweet spot is. If there's low proof cocktails or spirit-forward cocktails or cocktails with juice? If there's any suggestions you have possibly for our listeners that might allow them to do either in their bars or in their homes.

Tony: I love the idea of pairing the cocktail with food. Mexican food and margaritas are perfect example. Grilled skirt steak, spicy with a mojito is a great combination. I don't really like full cocktail pairings where you do five or six courses pair with cocktails. I have to work to make cocktails pair with certain dishes where wine is just inherently meant to go with food. So even for me, a cocktail guy, I like to start with a cocktail maybe with the appetizer course, and then move into wine and finish with a cocktail and an amaro or strong spirit at the end of the meal kind of finish off my expresso. I like to go in that journey and wine is definitely a part of it, but I always incorporate the cocktail. Going out to dinner and not having a negroni to start with is not going out to dinner.

April: With cocktails when you’re pairing them with food in particular with Libertine Social, are you pairing flavors that go nicely together, is it kind of what grows together goes together, is it thematic by style of food, or just saying create delicious cocktails that will make you happy and excited to eat your dinner?

Tony: It’s all of the above. It's definitely things that grow together go together. That was something Mario Batali taught me when I worked for him years ago. I like contrasting flavors if I have a rich dish, I want something with high acidity kind of play off that. I like things that go together. As you know, when I met Shawn my plan was doing Iron Chef America and there we had to utilize the same secret ingredient in cocktails and in food. So utilizing the same ingredient in different fashions different applications but yet that carry together beautifully. Like I said earlier, certain dishes that Shawn makes these beautiful scotch olives stuffed with feta, wrapped with lamb sausage, breaded and deep fried that go so beautifully with our barrel-aged boulevardier. Those flavors just work so nicely together in the richness of the bourbon whisky. We used the Bakers 107 so it's a rich powerful bold Bourbon whisky and barrel-aging brings those ingredients together and plays up that spicy sausage.

April: It sounds delicious. So this is actually a really great segue into the cocktail I'm drinking right now. I know we discussed the negroni one of your favorite cocktails, you're also known for the Cable Car that you created in 1996 for the Starlight Room. I actually made one in your honor that I'm consuming over here. Captain Morgan spice rum, orange curacao, fresh sour mix, orange twist, and a cinnamon sugar rim it's presented in a chilled cocktail glass. Do you mind saying a couple words about how you came up with this, how it became as popular as it was? Do you serve it still? I'm not sure about that either.

Tony: Yes, yes, and yes. 1996, cocktail menus were starting to show up in bars, and people were starting to create cocktails. It was a retro back to when bars would have cocktail menus with a lot of original drinks, and that's how a lot of the classics we know today got started as original cocktails. So when the people from Captain Morgan came to us at the Starlight Room, we recently reopened Harry Denton’s Starlight Room and asked to create a cocktail. It was really riffing on a side card which was a riff on a Brandy Crusta, so I kinda put those two worlds together. I just started resurrecting orange curacao because that was another one of those modifying liquors that didn't survive prohibition and we were just starting to see it come back a little bit. I made the drink originally in a style of Side Car. I love cointreau  but it didn't have that richness that curacao brought to the drink that played off the rum I thought a little bit better, so I substituted orange curacao in the role and it just worked. I mean the richness complimented the spice of the rum.

I've always said a lot of those drinks that call for just lemon juice were a little too tart. We weren't able to bring enough liqueur to balance them out of lemon juice you needed to add to accommodate today's larger glass size. I've always loved to use a lemon soar. Fresh lemon juice and simple syrup, I blend the two together, it's consistent. The simple syrup helps as a preservative to lemon juice, so you don't get that oxidation as quickly that sometimes fresh lemon juice will bring it too little old. Put them together was just missing one element, and I played off the spices in the rum mainly the cinnamon and sugar, and it just kinda clicked and it is become my best known drink. Created at the Starlight Room in San Francisco named after the Knob Hill cable car tracks, and then brought to Las Vegas when I did the program at Bellagio in 1998, and everybody fell in love with the drink, "Oh you've got to try our Cable Car." There's nothing better than a beautiful cocktail server recommending the drink to you. It became the number one requested recipe at the Bellagio and really took off because Bellagio was an international clientele.

We get requests from all over the world for that recipe. Now the Cable Car is 20 years old. Created in 1996 and we feature it today at Libertine Social on retro section of the menu which is probably our best-selling section. It includes strings like Sex on the beach, the Harvey Wallbanger, the Cosmopolitan. Drinks that a lot of people recognize and maybe haven’t had a great Lemon Drop in 20 years. They have fun with that section—something they know and the Cable Car sits on the top of that menu we sell a lot of them today at Libertine Social.

April: And on the sour mix, I know your recipes says expressly fresh sour mix. Not actually knowing your recipe for sour mix I did what you described—half fresh lemon juice and 1:1 simple syrup. I'm curious because actually I don't know the Vegas market as well, but is stocking sour mix, the simple and the citrus premixed, is that standard these days? I know obviously you guys do a lot more volume than the majority of speakeasy style bars in New York.

Tony: That was something again I reached out to a producer when I opened Bellagio in ‘98 and they dollop a sour mix, which is two parts fresh lemon juice to one part simple syrup, and my simple is one to one simple. So it’s a 2:1 ratio which allows you to use it with a reduced amount of modifying liqueur in drinks like margarita drinks like a side car, and you're able to balance that with the liquor. I don’t find as much hardness. When you have, in a case of Bellagio today 150 bartenders making drinks, it just makes it much easier to achieve consistency across the board. And as I mentioned by adding the sugar to lemon juice also prolongs the life of the lemon itself.

That's pretty been my recipe. It's worked really well. I can't speak for everyone in Las Vegas. I know there are bars are doing fresh lemon simple, but for us that's the recipe that we use in Libertine Social and we use that at T-Mobile as well. It serves us very well and puts out a fresh consistent drink. And also speed of service we talked about. Instead of touching two bottles, you touch one. So at the end of the day on a busy night especially in an arena environment, that adds a few extra drinks made. Those are my reasons for doing it.

April: It's beautiful and totally makes sense I am curious of the T-Mobile Arena, you also did the program for Oracle Arena in Oakland, is that correct?

Tony: Yes.

April: And obviously Vegas—known for volume. If you don't actually have a prediction on this, no worries. People are really into craft cocktails, speakeasy style bars, then we hit a certain point, I mean in my experience it's probably been in the last 2-3 years where people just started saying, “Yes, I want the quality but I want it quickly.” Where previously you'd be comfortable waiting up to 20 minutes for a really well made cocktail. We're seeing trends like draft cocktails, the barrel-aged cocktails, what you’ve described with pre-batching a piece of the components so in this case the citrus sweet together. Do you have a prediction on where we're going to streamline or bring together craft with volume?

Tony: Absolutely. It's something that I've been entrenched in with both projects; Libertine Social and T-Mobile Arena. Just to clarify, I was never comfortable waiting 20 minutes. I don't care how cool or hot the place was, 20 minutes was always too long to wait for a drink.

April: I agree, but I've seen it and some people don't complain.

Tony: Yeah. It was great. What has happened over the last 15 years 10 years in our profession has been amazing. Never in my wildest dreams would I have forecast that. The creativity and pushing the envelope, the respect for that lost and forgotten art of the mixologist being brought back into the public view—people waiting 20 minutes for a drink. I think a little pretentiousness went along with that, a little arrogance. I think we're getting away from that. I think it was pushing those envelops and exposing this to the public to the people and unexpecting guests for the first time might have been a little put off, but really they became cocktail geeks. Google I think helped people educate themselves on cocktails as well.

I totally agree with you, April. What we try to do at Libertine Social is still put out the best drinks we can. We want them to be fun, we want them to be approachable. We do have the arcade bar in the back which is really more of a tribute to those lost and forgotten pre-prohibition cocktails bartenders that created them and fixes and crustas and daisies and things like this. But at the front bar, it's social and fun. We want people to have a great experience and we want to get them a drink quickly and we do barrel-aged cocktails as mentioned. We have a great bottle cocktail program. We do two cocktails on draft. And all this I was nervous about until I discovered this company called Ripe Beverage out of Connecticut, that does these high pressurized fresh juices which allows us to serve a fresh drink on draft and be confident of the consistency and the quality of the product and not oxidation of citrus as well as in our bottle cocktails. So we do things like that to expedite service to offer a fresh consistent yummy drink in a fun environment. It's working really really well for us. Our cocktail sales are crazy. Our bar staff is wonderful. They elevated their game. I don't think anybody is ever waiting 20 minutes for a cocktail.

April: Especially in that environment. I think it's not the same thing as sitting down in 12 seat speakeasy. That's kinda part of the experience, I think in that environment it would be very unacceptable.

Tony: I never know how any of these places ever made any money on 20-minute cocktails.

April: I agree and I think that that's why we are seeing a trend of people saying this is great and all, and we want to experience, and we want the hospitality, and we want the quality, but we know that we need to deliver it. I think thousands of people, myself included, have been enamored with that sort of romantic version of the cocktail experience. I think that there is always a next step. I personally believe that this is the next step.

Tony: We probably wouldn't be able to take that next step without first taking that step.

April: For sure. For any of our listeners who are unfamiliar with the process that Tony just mentioned, my company Swig and Swallow uses that same process, it's called HPP, it's High Pressure Pasteurization. It extends the shelf life of fresh juice for up to three months if it's refrigerated. It really preserves the nutritional content better than any other process that's out there and also maintains flavor best. So I'm also a huge proponent to of this process and I think that a lot of people who do have fresh juice programs who are wasting a ton of produce every single day are probably gonna start switching and look into this solution. So it's amazing to hear that's been a great success for you.

Tony: Like I said, I would not have felt comfortable doing the draft cocktails at T-Mobile Arena or at Libertine Social without that product. I think it's just too vital to work with fresh citrus. Especially in an arena environment where you might go five days without having an event so to be able to do a fresh drink draft or even a la menu. Trying to manage fresh juices is difficult. This has allowed us to do some really great things.

April: Can I ask what size you're buying? Did you have like a liter bottle, do you have a gallon vessel of juice? Again this is for our listener benefit, when you open the bottle, the shelf-life goes down to 1-2 weeks. When it's closed, it's going up to three months. So depending on if there's folks listening to this who have cocktail programs of their own, it might be helpful for them to know what's sort of volume you're doing what size bottle that necessitates.

Tony: We do liter bottles for all a la menu use. Ripe also develops a five gallon bib. We work with a company that does the equipment that allows to do draft cocktails utilizing his bibs which are fantastic. It’s a fresh product, so you have to always shake it because fresh juices will settle. He's worked really closer with me on developing blends of different juices which really again expedite service where you're not grabbing four bottles, but you're grabbing one or it’s being produced in a five-gallon bib  with alcohol. It's a fantastic system and it works great and people are fascinated with it too. I used to always be the naysayer because I never really tasted a draft cocktail I thought it was nearly as good as it could be made a la menu until I discovered this system and this juice and put them together, and we've created several recipes together and it's just been a huge success.

April: Is that just for box seats or is that a bigger part of the stadium?

Tony: One thing we wanted to do at T-Mobile Arena was a signature drink, the Atomic Fizz. This way we have it on draft, we have carts that have draft the Atomic Fizz, and we have it in liter bottles so it can be made a la menu at all the bars. So it's truly signature cocktail wanted to kind of create the Mint Julep at the Kentucky Derby. It's beginning to be one of those requested drinks what people known to go to T-Mobile for an event or concert or a fight to have an Atomic Fizz. We will soon be getting our hockey team. We have a professional hockey team in Vegas Golden Knights and they'll be starting the next season. We're really excited with what's happening at T-Mobile and in Las Vegas in general.

April: I'm gonna have to come by for a cocktail and a hockey game because that sounds amazing.

Tony: Grab two tickets forth row of the glass.

April: Okay, perfect, thank you. So switching gears just very slightly. Speaking of ingredients, you recently released your book Vodka Distilled, why vodka?

Tony: Vodka is the most consumed spirit in United States —by far. 25% of spirit Vodka in United States—vodka. There’s a big misunderstanding of Vodka. Maybe not respect the category should get, I mean it’s one of the oldest distilled spirit. I was also a little bit frustrated with how our industry was viewing Vodka.

We definitely don't need another whipped cream vodka. I just thought there was a lack of understanding and respect for the category and people thought all vodka is the same and didn’t really understand vodka. That was the reasoning behind choosing vodka as the first book to do on a spirit and to try to bring a little bit more of awareness. Our friend Charlotte Boise once said, “Through greater knowledge comes deeper enjoyment.” I wish I said that because it really does. I love that quote. It really does play into the vodka category because I don't think a lot of people don't put the effort into really understanding vodka and tasting different styles of vodka, and they're choosing for themselves stylistically what works best in their cosmopolitan or their Martini or the Kangaroo or just on its own. That was really it to try to elevate the awareness and appreciation for the category.

April: I have a ton of respect for that, and quite frankly I was suspicious that that might have been part of your motivation because again for any of our listeners who may not be specifically in the mixology world, there has been I would say kind of an obsession with weird eccentric flavors. The weirder the better, and the less known the better. You kind of wonder if the motivation for that is to demonstrate your skillset at blending difficult to blend flavors, or if it's just to say I'm unique enough or independent enough to stand out from the crowd. I was assuming that that might have been your rebuttal to that, and I think a lot of people have a lot of respect for that because it takes...what's the proper word to say this? I was gonna say it takes balls [laughter] because we can never know if it doesn't work with the vodkas. Would you say you've gotten a solid response from consumers, from bartenders like what has kind of the response to the book been?

Tony: The response has been great. Just to segue back. I love being creative and I love playing with unique flavors, but ultimately we can't lose track of who are guests, who are customers, who are making these friends for. We're not making them for ourselves. Even something as simple as White Lady which is one of my favorite Gin cocktails. Gin is the category of people still don't really know, I mean the geeky people do obviously. You guys had people raise their hands on how many people like gin in a room of consumers and you probably get 10%. If you're able to win over someone by making them a great Cosmopolitan, it's an easy transition to take them into a White Lady because they trust you. If you insult them by saying what we don't make Cosmopolitans here, it's a silly drink. I'm gonna go next door and spend my money. If that make you the best cosmopolitan you guys had, let me make you a White Lady. We have to know our guests. The one thing I think that we kind of lost track of a little bit during that period was the art of hospitality. We're in a hospitality business. We gotta forget our egos and focus on what really we do, what is our job, and the art of hospitality.

April: Switching gears just a bit. I don't know if you remember this, but the first time we met, we had both won or been winners in the Iconoclasts for the Sundance Channel for first season. This is totally old hat for your and this is the first time I'd ever been filmed for anything and I hope nobody actually looks this up because it's obvious [laughter]. I actually have a funny anecdote about this.

At the beginning when they started shooting, when I started filming down in New Orleans, all of us were in attendance and producer/director said, “April do you wanna go first?” I'm not one to shy away from an opportunity, and I'm like psyching myself out because I've done this before. I'm like, “Fine I'll do it.” So I get up and I do my thing and then you went next. The second you got out there, I was like damn it [laughter] because you just were so composed, you knew when to start and stop, you knew if you said something that it didn't sound exactly the way you wanted to, you're immediately started again without hesitation, and I just wish I had paid attention to other people who have done this before.

So my question for you is—you are excellent at media, I know you have an acting background— for anyone who's going to be in the media or might end up wherever even in an Instagram video, do you have any tips for them, tricks, ways to psych themselves out or not?

Tony: I recall an Albert Einstein quote. “The only way to gain knowledge is through experience.” It's really true for the performance aspect of what we do. When you're gonna be onstage, when you're gonna be hosting event, when you're doing educational seminars. When you're gonna be in front of the camera, especially. The only way to get better at it is this to put yourself up and do it more.

Any opportunity you get, you should rehearse. I just did the beverage conference in San Diego and I am seen in front of 750 of my peers. That is a nerve racking experience. The preparation of it was probably three months work I went into it. I had an acting teacher once who said, "The better you know the subject the less you'll ever act. Do the work, prepare yourself, and then when you get on stage let it all go and trust that you know." So I encourage people take public speaking classes. Take an acting class.

Some people you have to put yourself out there. When you look at Food Network and the celebrity chefs, they're very good at what they do behind the stove, but they're very good with what they're able to do in front of the camera. It's not easy and it doesn't just happen. It's about training and preparation and just doing the work and then putting it out there. Any opportunity is just like anything just like working behind the bar, the more you do it the better you get at it. You don’t even think about the ingredients that go into a Side Car or a Corpse Reviver, you just own it. You know where everything is in the movements. That's really doesn't happen overnight it’s not easy. It doesn't come naturally and it really requires a lot of work. Start off with a good class.

April: Start of with a good class. Would you say like a Toastmasters or are there any specific schools that you recommend?

Tony: Probably wherever you are, most community colleges have some type of introduction to theater or basic theater class or a public speaking class, any of these things. Again, anytime you get an opportunity to present even if it's just in front of your staff at line up, and we've got a new gin let me tell you about this gin and do the work so you can present it and rehearse it. Because when you're in camera, you generally have 90 seconds, 3 minutes maybe, to get your point in. Media training is another great thing a little expensive but valuable work with the brand, then have them put you through media training. I've done quite a bit media training.

All of these are gonna make you better at what you do and that’s make you more employable when people are looking for someone to represent their brand in positive way. You get on the today show, and you've got five minutes with Kathie Lee and you've got to get the message in. Someone's paying and the better you're at it the better you feel. If it's really what you wanna do then you'll do the work and elevate yourself in your profession.

April: So personal little anecdote too. I've recently been teaching myself ukulele. I haven't had a teacher for more than...a friend helped me for two classes, but this is about six months and I’ve been recording YouTube videos of it, and I've also been recording just on my phone like on the audio recorder there just to refine how it sounds. At least in my experience it never sounds the way you think it's going to, and it never looks the way you think it's going to. So I think that's really like low impact way to get practice in where you don't have to worry about it being in front of hundreds or thousands of people.

Tony: You're absolutely right. Set up a camera and just rehearse in front of the camera where are your eyes at, delivering a message. Is there a lot of “ands” and “ums” in your speech? If there's a lot of “ands” and “ums” and you don't know the material, and you haven't been prepared. You can tell when you listen someone speak look for the ands and ums. They’re searching for the next thought. Anything like that can make you more confident and better prepared. There's no substitution for preparation. I love the ukulele. Good for you.

April: I actually I had a very serious phobia of singing in public for some strange reason and decided to cure it, and it's been working so far. It's super exciting and honestly I'm not kind of huge proponent of the instrument just because it's really easy to pick up and pretty easy to learn—much easier than a guitar. So for any aspiring musician out there, it's like $30.

Tony: My goal one day is to open a little Mai Tai bar in Hawaii. Maybe you can come and we work together. We work together and you play the ukulele.  

April: I would love that. So back to Vegas for one second, you mentioned cycling earlier. I know you do a lot of charity work that I believe you often lead with a back ride like a fundraiser, do you mind just telling our listeners a little bit about your charity work?

Tony: I'm actually very blessed of working in this industry now for 37 years, and I was taught by my cousin Helen David who ran a bar for nearly 70 years. Anyone who runs the same bar for 70 years is quite an accomplishment, but a woman to do it starting in 1937 it was still rare in a lot of places for a women to be in a bar by herself let alone running a bar. Helen was a 2-time breast cancer survivor back when a lot of people didn't survive breast cancer and she was a big advocate to the cause.

In her memory, I started the Helen David Relief Fund which benefits bartender and their families who’ve been affected by breast cancer, and helps with the incidental cause, the wig that you need after chemo, the screening, rent that needs to be paid, the groceries need to be stocked. Not the medical bills, but the things that we don't really think about. You've just gone through this horrific phase and now you find yourself three months behind in the rent. So that's what the Helen David is there to help with.

I started on my 50th birthday and we're now in our seventh year. We have formed Team Negroni with the support of Campari America three years ago, and we started up with one bicycle ride during Negroni week. Last year we did four cities and this year we're slated to do seven. So encouraging bartenders to get on a bike and give that to those less fortunate but also to understand we work in a very strenuous profession and we often times don't take the best care of ourselves. So by peddling 40 miles and training for that to help others we're also helping ourselves.

April: Are you cycling in all these cities?

Tony : I cycled in all four last year. To do seven is gonna be difficult, but I think I can do six.

April: I was gonna say you might just do a triathlon after this, you'll be trained [laughter]

Tony: I can't run. I'm better floater than swimmer.

April: They give you some floaties and like a propeller or something.

Tony: I do love the bicycle. If anyone out there listening is interested in getting involved with the Helen David Relief Fund, who's interested in Team Negroni and the bicycle rides, all the information under the United States Bartender’s Guild their charitable foundation. So if you're USBG member you have access to that. If you're not you should be a USBG member. We have chapters in every major city in America. So become a member, but you can go to the website and it’ll direct you to the Helen David, it’ll tell you all about the bicycle thing.

April: Awesome. Tony, just to close out, I have a few more quick questions for you, for recommendations for our listeners and I’ve been asking each of my guest this. Recommendations for four different categories: Educational resources, inspiration, organizational tools, and media.

Do you have any recommendations for... I guess we'll just start from the top educational resources anything you use to keep yourself sharp?

Tony: I encourage everyone, especially to starting off. BarSmarts is a wonderful opportunity, through Pernod Ricard, and the BAR 5-day that Dale and Paul Packel and Steve Olsen, Dave Wondrich, Doug Frost, Andy Seymour. They host once a year the BAR 5-day which is fantastic.

A lot of the southern wine spirits at the Spirits Academy. I know they have one in Florida and Orlando and Tampa. They have one in Chicago, here in Las Vegas, Kentucky. So those are wonderful opportunities to go through a great class as well. As far as books, there's just so many fantastic books out there from the classics—David Emory’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks  should be on every bartenders shelf. Dave Wondrich’s Imbibe. Dale Degraw’s The Craft of the Cocktail. Gary Regan The Fine Art of Mixology. I mean, I need a new bookshelf for all the books they have.

David Embury — The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks

Dave Wondrich — Imbibe

Dale Degroff — The Craft of the Cocktail

Gary Regan — The Joy Art of Mixology

April: Any recent favorite of yours? It could be book, magazine, podcast, it could be a TV show, just anything that you gravitate towards.

Tony: When are we gonna get a TV show that genuinely represents our profession?

April: Hey Bartender was one step in that direction, don't you think?

Tony: It sure was. Hey Bartender was fantastic, it was great, and love to see a sequel. Love to see a series. I write for In the Mix, a quarterly trade magazine. Imbibe is a fantastic magazine resource. Esquire—anything Dave Wondrich writes, I love to read. I made a promise to myself to stop buying cocktail books. I gotta start reading some romance novels.

April: So what about inspiration? Anything from leaders, religion, just travelling to clear the mind?

Tony: I'm going to Singapore on Saturday and I'm planning to clear my mind. I'm going on a guest lecture series with Crystal Cruise Lines and cruising from Singapore to Hong Kong, staying one night at the famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore. Gonna write about the Singapore Sling. I've never been to Asia, and I'm hoping to really open up the spiritual side of that just relax for a couple of weeks. I'm really excited about that.

I just met Ken Gronbach. Ken wrote about the age curve. He was a keynote speaker we had a really nice visit at Vibe and opened up my eyes to a lot of things as we age and demographics some things like that. I believe life like a well-balanced cocktail is and should be balanced. We can't just totally bury ourselves in everything cocktails, it's just not healthy. That's why with the Helen David, and the bicycle team—I just try balance in life like I do in a cocktail.

April: Tony, thank you so much for coming on, this was such a pleasure talking to you.

Tony: This has been fantastic, thank you for having me on. Like I said, very blessed than 37 years behind bars and I've loved every minute of it. Can't wait to see what comes next.

April: Amazing. By the way, I'm gonna look you up when I come to Vegas, when I follow up on those seats.

Tony: Fourth row, on the glass. You'll love the seats, and I'll make you an Atomic Fizz.

April: Perfect. Thank you so much Tony.

Tony: Thank you April, you have a blessed day.

Episode 6: Interview with Ann Tuennerman from Tales of the Cocktail

Episode 6: Interview with Ann Tuennerman from Tales of the Cocktail

Episode 4: Interview with Lindsey Johnson from Lush Life Productions

Episode 4: Interview with Lindsey Johnson from Lush Life Productions