We understand that sometimes it’s hard to remember your favorite bartender’s name or what their favorite drink is. So that’s why we decided to introduce you to some bartenders around the country who are interested in sharing a little more about their craft. Bartending isn’t easy — it’s long hours, busy nights, slow days, and sometimes the occasional rude customer or two. Take a step into a bartender’s shoes and get to know them a little better! Once you learn their favorite cocktail, maybe you can offer them a drink or two after their shift…
The Daily Meal: Where do you work?
Tony Devencenzi: Bourbon & Branch in San Francisco.
TDM: How long have you been bartending?
TD: At this point, more than nine years.
"Scotch and agave (mezcal and tequila) have for a long time been my go-to "wheelhouse" spirits" TDM: What is your favorite drink to make for guests?
TD: That really depends on the situation. I love making a drink for someone that they don't think they want, but is what they actually need and love in that moment. Seeing that unsuspecting realization of joy on their face is very fulfilling for me. On a side note to folks out there — bartenders kind of hate this question. Especially when they are busy. Especially if it’s a leading question that implies that whatever a bartender likes to make should be what you are drinking. To be specific, I love to make and drink "brown, bitter, stirred" cocktails. This does not mean that a Vieux Carre or Greenpoint are appropriate cocktails for your mood or palate.
TDM: What is the worst thing that's happened to you behind the bar?
TD: While opening a bottle of rather cheap white zinfandel during a busy Sunday brunch I had an injury occur. I was trying to open it too fast in one very quick pull of the cork. The wine key slipped off the top of the bottle. On the second try I pressed down on it harder and the neck of the bottle snapped, creating a glass spear the shredded open my hand. As with any injury like this, it often takes a second to fully realize what happened. Hands have a large amount of blood pressure, especially when adrenaline is pumping. My hand was initially clenched, so as I looked down and opened it the blood sprayed across me and up on the back bar and TV above me. I went to the hospital and had 24 total stitches put in my fingers and palms, and the staff had to clean up what looked like a mafia hit. I had no feeling in the tips of two of my fingers for several years, but eventually the nerves regrew and I have feeling again in them, albeit somewhat reduced.
TDM: What's the best pick-up line you've received from a patron while tending bar?
TD: New Year's Eve at Bourbon & Branch I stand on top of the bar for the midnight countdown, leading our merry revelers in the count down to the New Year. I hop down off the bar to the sounds of everyone loudly mumbling the wrong lyrics to "Auld Lang Syne." She looks me straight in the eyes, says, "I need a kiss." I said, "I know." We dated for several years.
TDM: What is the most challenging part of being a bartender?
TD: Not having time to spend with your friends that work more standard hours and have spouses and children. My work hours dictate that quite often I'm slinging drinks during the only free time they have. This can also apply to working certain holidays. I've had about one Halloween and/or New Year's off in about the last six years.
TDM: What's the best part of being a bartender?
TD: I truly love my profession, so there are way too many things to mention. Several of the top things are: The people in "the industry." I get to work and interact a constant basis with some the most intelligent, funny, outgoing, and outrageously creative people that I have ever met. Then, making people happy. Seeing that smile on people's face as I have made their birthday, anniversary, engagement celebration, or Tuesday night that much more special. And travel. I have been sent on trips to Kentucky, Mexico, Peru, and Puerto Rico all at the behest of spirit companies to see what they do and how they do it.
TDM: What's your go-to cocktail when you're out with friends?
TD: My go-to drink is not a cocktail. Shot and a beer. End of story.
TDM: What's your favorite alcohol to create cocktails with?
TD: I go in phases. Scotch and agave (mezcal and tequila) have for a long time been my go-to "wheelhouse" spirits. Recently I've been more inspired playing with lower-proof spirits and fortified wines like cocchi, vermouth, sherry, etc. Having great drinks that are more session-able (aka pack less of a punch) is a fun and delicate art form.
TDM: What is the most ridiculous bartending story you have?
TD: Written words cannot describe the many amazing and ridiculous things that I have experienced as a bartender. It’s part of what I love about this job, that the experiences are always evolving and quite often surprising.