For 21 years Adam Stabile has been the head barman at the Spring House Hotel on Block Island, a mainstay, a part of the soul of the place and, after three drinks, I will say a legend. Actually, I’ve said it after two.
After what has been a lifetime for someone about to have their first legal drink, he has called time on his time on the island, and is retrenching to the Providence Oyster Bar, in Providence Rhode Island, where he has also worked for many years. And he’s starting a YouTube channel, where he’ll be seen making cocktails, showing classic preparation skills, product testing, and whatever else grabs his fertile imagination.
What makes a great bar? And what makes a great bartender?
These go hand in hand. A great bar must have a great bartender that matches and compliments the style of the room. For me, nothing beats a classic mahogany hotel bar with a classically trained barman behind it.
A great bartender must first serve their customers from their heart. You cannot fake true hospitality. Proper knowledge of classic cocktails and preparation are very important, as is utmost attention to all details — cleanliness, lighting, music, which guests you introduce to each other to enhance their evenings (or not). There are literally hundreds of minuscule details I’m thinking about throughout a night, and staying on top of them systematically is the mark of a great barman.
What is the difference between a bartender and a mixologist?
I get this one lot, and I liken it to Italian charcuterie: all salami is salumi, but not all salumi is salami… Every bartender has to have a certain level of mixology knowledge, but the customer’s experience has to come first, not the drink. Which has to be great as well, but not while compromising the guests needs.
What’s the secret to making a great drink?
Simple, balance. And elevate your preparation skills to a level of art.
When and how is it advisable to mess with a recipe?
When you’ve mastered the classic recipe and have a deep understanding of cocktail and flavor balance, then you can play around with substituting ingredients.
What’s the trick to inventing a new drink?
Test test test test. If you have a knowledge of balance and flavor profiles, use whatever ingredients you’re using within those parameters…
What’s your signature drink to make?
I’m a stickler for the classics, both in ingredients and the art of preparation. I’d say nothing beats a perfectly stirred Manhattan with just the right amount of bitters and Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, served in a cloudy, chilled cocktail glass and garnished with an Amarena cherry from Bologna. Che Bella!
What trend in bartending do you dislike?
I wouldn’t say there are too many trends I dislike. What I dislike most is when a bartender doesn’t take their craft seriously. Its such a waste. You can meet so many people and create so many good memories for your guests if you realize that you’re more than just an order taker.
What’s the most pretentious bar you have ever been to?
I usually know what type of bar I’m walking into, and if it’s known to be a bit pretentious, I roll with it. Maybe I raise my pinky when sipping my cocktail. I like to fit in.
What’s your favorite bar in the world?
The lobby bar at the Westin Excelsior in Florence, Italy. Sipping a Negroni, listening to “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck, and admiring the art deco style.
What’s the funniest/worst bar fight you’ve ever seen?
I always try to anticipate and dissolve anything that will upset and/or distract from my guests experience, but I’ve got a few good ones! However, my “Doctor/Patient” confidentiality oath prevents me from going into detail, wink, wink.
Who is the worst kind of bar patron?
Someone who doesn’t show respect. I try to set a certain level of class and decorum in any of the bars I work. If a guest doesn’t understand that, is rude, that’s the worst.
What’s your favorite drink?
Hands down a well prepared Negroni (equal parts Gin, Campari & Sweet Vermouth). The perfect balance — there’s that word again. Sweet, bitter, floral, tart, garnished with an orange peel with the oils expressed over the top of the drink.
Perfection in a glass, as far as I’m concerned.