Gary Regan: “Bartenders can change the world”

September 01, 2014
Bartender, writer, international competition judge, blogger and teacher: Gary Regan talks to FnL!

Gary Regan, one of the most emblematic figures in the world of drink, talks to us about recent developments, about drinks tainted with blood, about libations that are simply undrinkable (despite being touted as “good), and for the first time about the concept of the bars he himself plans to open.

- The bartending scene has grown incredibly all over the world in recent years. Why is this?

The quality of cocktails and the skills of bartenders have developed rapidly in recent years. This has obliged the general public to follow this trend and learn everything there is to know about new flavours and the latest developments relating to drinks.

- Some maintain that bartenders are the new chefs. Would you agree?

Bartenders and chefs certainly have many things in common. Personally though, I see them as two separate categories of professionals.

- As we follow developments in the international bartending scene, we often see innovations in the way drinks are served and mixing techniques. But don’t you think there are cases where even outstanding bartenders go too far?

Yes, but there is nothing untoward about this. It is positive that various innovations are proposed from time to time. Some will work, others won’t. What’s most important in such instances is the ability to recognise that something is “bad” and immediately reject it.

- Your latest book is devoted entirely to the Negroni. Does this mean that despite your remarkable bartending career, your heart lies with classic recipes?

Of course! Classic recipes are the foundations on which we can experiment to create new ones. But this doesn’t mean we have to stick with them if we want to try and create something completely new.

- What’s your opinion about competitions? Should all talented bartenders participate?

Well I personally have never taken part in a competition, so no, it’s not something necessary. But I am getting on now and the rules of the game have changed. Ultimately, I believe it is purely a matter of ambition on the part of each bartender. Competitions can provide an enormous boost to participants who really want to go somewhere.

- What is your general impression of the new generation of bartenders?

I am loving every minute of bartending and mixology in the 21st century. Carry on with passion! You’re doing great!

- How do you view molecular bartending?

I love it when it works and hate it when it doesn’t. I would say the same about any other drink technique.

- Generally speaking, New York is considered the centre of all new ideas. Is this true also in the case of bartending?

We can’t say this about any city, not just New York. New ideas constantly spring from different bartenders in every corner of the world.

- You have seen, written about, tasted and heard of thousands of ideas for recipes and techniques. But when was the last time you were taken aback?

When I heard that a Greek-American bartender, Ektoras Binikos, tried to incorporate dried blood into a cocktail! He wanted to make this particular drink for a performance artist known for acts of self-mutilation with scalpels... live on stage!

- But there must also be things that you frown on...

I get really annoyed when people overdo things by embracing style over substance, especially when no one points out the error of their ways! On many occasions I have seen people tasting drinks that really are undrinkable and praising them to the skies, simply because the person who made them is regarded as a leading bartender.

- Is it possible to know whether we are in a “good” cocktail bar just a few minutes after entering?

The most important thing is service. And you can assess this very quickly.

- You have been quoted as saying that “bartenders can change the world”. What exactly do you mean by this?

If, in one night, a bartender can make 10 people happier, then he or she is doing their bit to change the world. And if 10 million colleagues do the same thing, on the same night, then the world will have changed, literally. It’s very simple!

- You also speak about “mindful bartending”. I am not quite sure what you mean...

It is a fairly complex concept to describe in just a few words. In general, it is a philosophy based on Buddhist principles, particularly those relating to total concentration and focus on a specific thing at a given moment. Put simply, it is about experiencing and being aware of the “now”. The particular customer who is “now” in front of us, or the particular colleague. Above all, it is about learning to trust and act in accordance with their senses and perceptions at the moment they ask this of us.

- Bartender, writer, judge, blogger, teacher... You have accomplished so much in the world of drinks. Which of these is your favourite role?

That’s easy... bartender!

- What will we be drinking next year? And from whom?

Negroni and Manhattan at Gaz Bar!

- Speaking of which... why is it you don’t yet have your own bar and instead make guest appearances behind the bar of Dead Rabbit in New York?

To be honest... I am currently looking for a location to open my own bar! This is my new objective, my new venture, Gaz Bar, with a very simple concept along the lines of a dive bar. The first will be in Manhattan. After that... who knows!

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