There’s a special place in our hearts for great bartenders – the truly amazing ones not only provide a great glass of wine or hand-crafted cocktail, but they create an environment that allows us to totally unplug from the day and enjoy the moment. To get a little insight into what makes the good ones tick, we sat down recently with two of our favorites. Jesse Held and Jeff Rogers have been movers and shakers in the Minneapolis cocktail scene for over 20 years, and we found their answers to be both entertaining and inspiring.
First things first: what got you in to bartending in the first place?
Jesse Held: How does the saying go? “You don’t find the business, the business finds you.” I went through college being a bartender – it’s cash money in hand when you walk out the door – what better way to make a living?
Jeff Rogers: I also thought of it as a means to an end, but what I loved about it is the concept that you could sit at a place where a lawyer talks to an accountant talks to a writer – all at the same bar top – laughing and joking and enjoying the same moment. That’s what I got enthralled with.
Are you surprised you’re still in the business?
JH: Yes! I am surprised I’m still in the business. The 25-year-old Jesse would not have envisioned a career in the bartending world. But now looking back at it, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I actually went to college to be a doctor, if you can believe it.
JR: I still get asked what I am going to do when I grow up! But it has been such a fulfilling career. To know that you can make somebody’s good day better, somebody’s bad day the best is what got me into it, and that’s what keeps me going now.
How do you revive your creative juices?
JR: At one point in my career I found that I was losing my creativity, so I started forcing myself to make drinks, to make weird things, to put weird flavors together for no reason. It was more just to keep those juices going, almost like having writer’s block where you literally just put words on paper, and don’t even care what they mean or how they come together. Throw a papaya in it and see what happens! Just the playing of different flavors is the stuff that pushes the creativity and sparks it.
JH: Each new wave of bartenders comes in with these amazing ideas and concepts I’m not familiar with: different techniques, different styles, different methods, different ingredients. And because of that new influx of bartenders coming through the ranks – it forces me to be creative in a very positive way. In order for us to maintain our creativity and to still be considered one of the best cocktail establishments – we need to be able to harness that creativity and evolve with it. The younger generation keeps me creative.
Is there a correct way to ask for a special drink or a special request on a drink?
JH: Our job behind the bar has nothing to do with telling somebody what to drink or how to order – our job is to make whoever is coming up to the bar and drinking whatever they are drinking, to feel really good about it. It’s not what they are drinking – it’s who is drinking it. That’s what we need to take care of.
What is your house cocktail or house wine in your own home – your go to?
JR: The greatest cocktail in the world always involves two ingredients – and one of them is glass. So it means a shot of my favorite whiskey and a beer and that’s it. We make cocktails for a living, so when we go home, it’s about winding down – and I like spirits.
JH: For me it’s a longneck Miller High Life and a glass of whiskey. That’s it (maybe ice).
Tell us about the community of bartenders that you work with. What’s next for you?
JR: We started the local bartenders’ guild about 10 years ago – because there wasn’t a craft cocktail bartender platform in Minneapolis at the time. Designed by us for people like us to express and share ideas it’s an open community. No one holds secrets. The community as a whole; we are able to bounce ideas off each other.
I always say that I’m selfish because when I’m 70 I want to have good cocktails, so if we set up the people that are younger to be better than we ever were, then when I’m 70 I’m going to drink like a king!
JH: It’s going to be amazing!