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Drumbar head bartender Alex Renshaw may have moved to Chicago to take improv classes, but a barback gig quickly convinced him to start improvising behind the bar instead.
After moving here from Cincinnati, Renshaw wanted to find work as a bartender while taking classes. A friend told him about an opening for a barback job at Sable Kitchen and Bar. He took the gig, thinking he’d work there until he found a bartending job.
But something clicked at Sable. Renshaw fell in love with the bar culture and the craft cocktails Mike Ryan was serving. During his half-hour bus ride to work each day, he read everything he could about spirits and cocktails.
From each of the bartenders Renshaw worked with at Sable, he learned something about the industry. Ryan taught him about cocktail construction and how to work efficiently behind the bar. Nate Howell (now head bartender at Cusp Dining & Drinks in La Jolla, California), taught him about customer service. And DeJorn Huffman, who also works behind the bar at Brindille, introduced him to the Chicago bartender community—the people Renshaw now calls friends.
In July, after being named one of the Top 10 Bartenders to Watch at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, Renshaw announced that he was leaving Sable to take over the beverage program at Drumbar from Craig Schoettler. In addition to Drumbar, located in the Raffaelo Hotel, Renshaw will oversee the beverage programs at the other Menin Hotel properties around the country.
We caught up with Renshaw to talk about how he approaches bartending and what he’s shaking up this fall.
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What's the most important skill a bartender should have?
Personality. Of course, you need to know how to make a decent drink as well, but personality takes priority in my opinion. At the end of the day, what keeps people coming back is how the bar makes them feel.
What were your goals in taking over Drumbar's program?
I wanted to make a program that not only fit the space but also fits the tools we have. I added 25 classic cocktails to the menu and brought in some quality, local beer options.
How do you approach making cocktails? And how do you incorporate that style into Drumbar's menu?
My style is classically driven and I also stick to using seasonal ingredients. At Drumbar, we offer a large classic cocktail selection and we will be changing our house cocktails four to five times a year as the seasons change.
What's your cocktail-making style in in three words?
Less is more.
What do you drink on your night off?
I typically drink beer and/or a nice Scotch.
What trends have you spotted in cocktails?
Cocktails on tap, flavored ice and foams all seem to be trending pretty hard still. I'm waiting for spirits to be offered as a beam of light, like on Parks and Recreation.
What's a cocktail you've added to the menu that you think people should drink now?
A rum cocktail I named Yesterday's Gone. It's perfect for the summer-fall weather battle we are having lately as it’s light and refreshing but brings some fall tones with cinnamon and East India sherry.
Complete this sentence: Malört is...
Misunderstood but still pretty gross.