Bartender Erick Castro runs the award-winning and innovative Polite Provisions, in San Diego. The documentary series he shares with his wife; Bartender At Large is increasingly being seen and screened across North America. He’s known for his time working for global brands and bars in big markets on both coasts. Notable on his bar resume are the critical hits, Rickhouse in SF and Boilermaker NYC. Given that he spends a lot of his time interviewing bartenders to gain their insights on the industry we wanted to turn the questions in his direction.
It’s a turbulent, albeit exciting time and so the conversation ranged from cocktails and menu costing to some of the heavier topics we’re discussing in 2017.
1) What do you think the balance should be between bartenders focusing on competitions/pursuing brand ambassador roles VS. grinding it out behind a bar?
Erick Castro – It varies from market to market. In a place like San Diego we’re kind of immune to the brain drain that you get in big city markets. We don’t have brands snatching people up.
As long as a bartender is sticking to a realm that they’re comfortable with. Bartending and focusing on making good drinks. I think a lot of good can come from working with brands. But if a persons’ true passion is bartending they shouldn’t be made to feel like they have to own a bar, or work for a brand just to continue working in the industry. You can also work at a distillery.
Right now, it almost seems like there’s almost too much opportunities and some people aren’t picking things the smartest way. They aren’t picking what would be a good fit for them and rather doing what they think they’re ‘supposed to do’.
2) Polite Provisions has a legendary bar program. What were some of the challenges to setting it up the way that you did?
I honestly think one of the reasons the bar’s been so successful is – well, I knew the drinks were gonna be good, They’d been R&D to death – I wanted to create a culture and something special for the community rather than just a place that’s gonna win awards. The industry, I feel, has become a bit of an arms race. Everybody is so focused on impressing journalists and bloggers that they’ve actually stopped focusing on their neighborhood.
I can tell you several times I’ve been to cities with bars that win all the awards and they’re media darlings. You go, and the bar’s dirty and it’s empty. You’re the only one there. You realise, they spent all their budget on impressing journalists on the other side of the world. But, they forgot about the people that live two blocks away.
3) You’ve done a lot of work with cocktails on tap. What’s the number one thing to learn about setting up a tap cocktail program?
“Tap cocktails are not a short-cut.” – Erick Castro