Photo: Jordan Grice / Hearst Connecticut Media
With the expansion of bars and restaurants across the state, the art of mixing drinks and schmoozing patrons has seen growing interest in recent years.
“We are in one of those rising crests of bar-tending right now where since the early 2000s people are looking more into the foundation of what it means to make these incredible cocktails,” said Peter Clayton, owner and founder of the Bartenders Academy in Fairfield.
The school regularly trains interested candidates in the foundations of bar-tending, from the hospitality and service to original cocktail recipes that serve as the inspiration for many of the drinks served in specialty bars that have become popular for customers looking for a night out.
Whether it’s a passion for the craft or a means to secure extra income, bar-tending has become an increasingly coveted position for those interested in customer service with a flexible schedule.
“At all points of the year there are people saying, ‘how can I get into this industry,’ and naturally people seek training,” Clayton said, adding that that number has grown as more restaurants and bars, following industry trends, opt to include their own specialty drink menus.
As the population in urban centers continues to grow, more restaurants are opening to serve the demand created by residents and visitors.
“What you see is from the early 2000s people have started to go back to the earlier periods of bartending and rediscover the cocktails that were being made during Prohibition,” Clayton added. “This is a slow trickle that started percolating in the 1970s.”
Crucial piece to the puzzle
New York, as would be expected, was among the first places to witness the boom of craft cocktails in the past decade, but it has expanded nationwide as restaurants and bars look to ride the trends. At the center of it all are the mixologists.
To restaurateur Corina Livanos, having a great bartender and drink program can make a restaurant.
“It’s almost like a necessity,” she said. “It’s almost expected. I think a bartender, honestly, next to the executive chef is one of the most important roles in a restaurant.”
Livanos, along with her father and brothers, owns six restaurants in New York, including Oceana in New York City and Moderne Barn in Armonk.
While a high-quality menu may top the list of importance when opening a casual or fine-dining establishment, the New Yorker said an attractive beverage program and experienced bar-tending staff have become necessities when molding the guest experience.
“They are taking the classics and they are making their own version of current classics in today’s world, and it’s become an art and it’s become a huge trend I think everywhere, not just in the city restaurants, but everywhere you expect a good bartender to be able to create whatever you want,” she said.
Riding the wave
While the days of ordering a shot and a beer remain prominent for many bar goers, businesses are seeing plenty of customers looking for oddly named drinks made from locally sourced ingredients and flavors.
“Definitely the career path of bar-tending is back,” said Kevin Fitzsimmons, general manager of the Eli’s Bar and Tavern in Milford. “You find a good bartender, it makes the whole experience better.”
Along with the consistent number of eateries setting up statewide, Fitzsimmons said the growing craft beer and spirits industries have also played a role in the growing demand and opportunities for bartenders, especially as breweries open taprooms to serve their locally sourced beers.
“I think the other restaurants are seeing the popularity of the craft beer bars and mixology bars and they are trying to catch up,” he said. “You can’t just pour a vodka soda anymore. It’s all about craft cocktails. Local spirits are getting more and more popular.”