Atlanta's best bartenders speak up 

A roundtable discussion about the city's cocktail renaissance, plus their cocktail recipes

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From left: Paul Calvert, Lindy Colburn, Navarro Carr - JOEFF DAVIS
  • Joeff Davis
  • From left: Paul Calvert, Lindy Colburn, Navarro Carr

Kaplan: As a bartender, how do you think about the issue of overindulgence and your role in preventing problems?

Best: That is probably the hardest part about bartending for me personally. [Heads nod around the table.] I have had very, very heated exchanges even with people I know very well and love dearly, and it's like an intervention. It helps to see those signs before it gets to that level, because in that situation, being reactionary is damn near impossible. It is really the quintessential responsibility of a bartender, to be aware of where their guest is at. There are so many subtle ways of helping someone out — forgetting to make that drink for another hour, or saying, "Hey, how bout something to eat first and we'll talk about drinks in a little bit." A lot of times if it's subtle and respectful people will get the hint. But if you get to the point where they turn belligerent, it's the hardest thing in the world to deal with.

Macquarrie: Yeah, I think the hardest part of being the person that's cut off is that it's embarrassing, so a lot of times we'll walk around the bar and do it quietly, so no one else notices. And that works well for us.

Best: [It's a bit like] shepherding, especially when you're deep in the weeds, keeping that awareness ...

click to enlarge Navarro Carr - JOEFF DAVIS

Carr: We are shepherds!

Macquarrie: Especially when you have responsibility for the other staff. Are those guests being taken care of? Is that guy over there who's had four Sazeracs, is he still doing OK? The whole night you're in charge of that.

Calvert: I think that's a part of running the bar, taking care of people, making sure people are being safe. That's a part of creating an atmosphere, creating a night for people, a home.

Kaplan: You guys are essentially shepherds of a social mood and social interactions. How much are you thinking about that: the mood vs. making drinks?

Best: Constantly!

Calvert: I think about that more than I think about making drinks.

Best: I will stop making a drink just to go tweak the music one hair.

Macquarrie: Or adjust the lights when it becomes time.

Calvert: Every bartender should do that, and those are my favorite bars, not necessarily the bars that make fancy drinks.

Kaplan: A lot of people have latched on to the term "mixologist," but a lot of folks hate it, too. What do you prefer to be called?

Colburn: I personally don't have a problem with the term mixologist. I think there needs to be a distinction — there are a lot of great mixologists in town that make beautiful drinks, know a ton about the spirits, but they're terrible bartenders! You sit at their bar at lunch, they don't give you a napkin, there's no glass of water ...

Macquarrie: But then you have good bartenders being called mixologists.

Calvert: And that's the thing. I hate it when people don't want to look at the drink menu or go to your bar because they think it's too fancy. That's why I don't like the word mixologist, I'd rather just be a bartender who tries to do everything well.

Carr: I like the word bartender as well, I don't think we need any more division. I don't want to alienate or put up a wall between what I do and what someone does who works at a bar that just does beer and shots.

Calvert: We drink beer and do shots, too!

Carr: We do.

Calvert: Too much, actually. I think I've been drunk with all of you.

Kaplan: Do you take comfort in just making really simple drinks sometimes?

Colburn: You can curse that person ordering vodka and soda all you want and wish they'd be more adventurous.

Best: Oh, not me! I bless them.

Colburn: But at the end of the day that vodka soda has a great margin.

Best: And takes 30 seconds to make!

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