The rise of the craft cocktail has been no accident; bartenders across the country (and world) have worked to build a new liquid consciousness, drink by drink. Hey Bartender, a new documentary, gets up close and personal with some of the best bartenders. Tampa Theatre will host a one-night-only screening of the film on Wednesday, Oct. 2, at 7:30 p.m. I recently had the opportunity to speak with the film's director, Douglas Tirola, about why bartending, like art, has its own cultural movements.
"I was about 15 and got a job as a dishwasher at a restaurant/nightlife bar," Tirola said. "It turned into the town's big nightlife spot, all New York-style with velvet ropes and a huge bar. One night, the barback doesn't show up and I'm the barback."
Then one night the bartender didn't show up and Tirola took over.
"I was making sea breezes and Long Island Iced Teas then," he said. "The bartender is the official mayor for communities. There's a special relationship between regulars and bartenders and I always noticed that."
Today, Tirola makes documentary films at 4th Row Films in New York. But the bartending scene always fascinated him and the idea for a documentary about corner bars stuck in his head — but it still wasn't the exact story he wanted tell. Then, while staying at the Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles, the drinks made at the library bar caught his eye.
"This bartender was doing a lot with cocktails, fruits and vegetables," Tirola said. "He was going to the Santa Monica farmers market, a renown farmers market, for all these ingredients."
Back home in New York, Tirola discovered the Spring Lounge, then Employees Only — both New York bars taking risks with spirits.
"It was like a speakeasy but brand new," Tirola said of Employees Only. "I like things older and restaurants that are darker. All these people knew each other and it became like this political movement."
A political movement, but with cocktails.
"These people start doing things without knowing each other and their individual efforts move cocktails forward," Tirola said.
There's the shift from being called a "bartender" to a "mixologist," and then those that dismissed the title of mixologist to claim the position of bartender.
"People would say, I'm a mixologist and this is a choice for me," Tirola said. "This isn't me trying to be an actor and it didn't work out. This is a craft and I've learned it. And then some people decided they wanted to make good cocktails and provide great service, and started identifying more with the term bartender again."
Hey Bartender screens Wednesday, Oct. 2, at the Tampa Theatre, 711 N. Franklin St., Tampa, 813-274-8981. Tickets are $8-$10. Sidebern's Dean Hurst will provide complimentary "Wishing Tree" cocktail samples for those 21 and up from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Hurst will also host a question and answer session after the film. Fly Bar after party to follow at 9:30 p.m.