The Cottonmouth Club Presents

Bartender Masterclass: On Mastery featuring Master Bartender Toby Maloney (Part 1)

May 10, 2020 Michael Neff Season 100 Episode 4
The Cottonmouth Club Presents
Bartender Masterclass: On Mastery featuring Master Bartender Toby Maloney (Part 1)
Ch. 1: Advice from old bartenders...
On Lineage & Sartorial Changes
On Being In the Service Industry
On the Early Days of a New Epoch in Cocktails
The Making of Toby Maloney & Early Mild and Honey
Toby Maloney on Mastery in General
On Cocktails in Dives vs. Cocktails in Cocktail Bars
On Flair as An Essential Ingredient of Cocktails
Making Drink Makers Into Bartenders
How Bartending is Kind of Like Acting, Kind of Like Drugs
On Mastery of the Hands
When Your Cocktails Start Making Themselves
Jigger vs. Free Pour (Redux)
“Pretty Pony”
On Time & Practice
On How to Annoy and Old Bartender
The Cottonmouth Club Presents
Bartender Masterclass: On Mastery featuring Master Bartender Toby Maloney (Part 1)
May 10, 2020 Season 100 Episode 4
Michael Neff

If you would like to leave a virtual tip for the bar staff who helped produce this podcast, you can go to Venmo and contribute to TheCottonmouthClub-Staff. All proceeds go to the staff for food & essentials until we all have some clarity as to how this will all play out.

Training for Mastery takes years of work and dedication, and after a certain point there is no road map in any industry that helps the novice graduate to the journeyman, and the journeyman transform into the master. 

In our continuing Bartending Masterclass, host & Master Bartender Michael J. Neff, discussed the different phases of mastery. This time, we’re focusing on Mastery of the Heart with special guest Mr. Toby Maloney.

Mr. Maloney has worked in bars for many years, working behind the stick at dive bars and nightclubs around the country, as well as some of the most renowned cocktail bars in modern memory.

He was the very first bartender hired at the original Milk and Honey in New York, and has opened storied cocktail bars in Minneapolis, Nashville and Chicago, where he currently co-owns The Violet Hour and the soon-to-open Mother’s Ruin Chicago.

The Violet Hour received the James Beard Award for Best Bar Program in 2015.

Some highlights from Part 1 of our conversation:

“It comes down to the confidence you exude, and if you can nail those flair moves, people’s drinks taste better.”

“(Bartending) is kind of like acting and kind of like drugs...”

“People will go back to a bar that has great service and mediocre drinks, but if you have great drinks and mediocre service, people are like...meh.”

“The difference between cooking and bartending is cooking is a marathon and bartending is figure skating. Both are insanely hard, but no one cares what you look like after a marathon.”

Weird-tempo Banjo Tune: I Saw The Light

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

If you would like to leave a virtual tip for the bar staff who helped produce this podcast, you can go to Venmo and contribute to TheCottonmouthClub-Staff. All proceeds go to the staff for food & essentials until we all have some clarity as to how this will all play out.

Training for Mastery takes years of work and dedication, and after a certain point there is no road map in any industry that helps the novice graduate to the journeyman, and the journeyman transform into the master. 

In our continuing Bartending Masterclass, host & Master Bartender Michael J. Neff, discussed the different phases of mastery. This time, we’re focusing on Mastery of the Heart with special guest Mr. Toby Maloney.

Mr. Maloney has worked in bars for many years, working behind the stick at dive bars and nightclubs around the country, as well as some of the most renowned cocktail bars in modern memory.

He was the very first bartender hired at the original Milk and Honey in New York, and has opened storied cocktail bars in Minneapolis, Nashville and Chicago, where he currently co-owns The Violet Hour and the soon-to-open Mother’s Ruin Chicago.

The Violet Hour received the James Beard Award for Best Bar Program in 2015.

Some highlights from Part 1 of our conversation:

“It comes down to the confidence you exude, and if you can nail those flair moves, people’s drinks taste better.”

“(Bartending) is kind of like acting and kind of like drugs...”

“People will go back to a bar that has great service and mediocre drinks, but if you have great drinks and mediocre service, people are like...meh.”

“The difference between cooking and bartending is cooking is a marathon and bartending is figure skating. Both are insanely hard, but no one cares what you look like after a marathon.”

Weird-tempo Banjo Tune: I Saw The Light

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Michael Neff:   0:04
Welcome back and thanks so much for listening to our podcast, The Cottonmouth Club Presents, in which we discuss bars, bar culture, cocktails and spirits all through the specific lens of hospitality that only exists in places like bars. My name is Michael Neff, master bartender and your host for the series.  Tonight we're continuing our conversation on Mastery. We have been talking about this idea of mastery and the general idea that it resides first in the head than the hands than the heart. And when I first started the series, I thought that what I would do is separate those conversations. But the fact is, once you get far enough down that road of mastery, it's almost impossible to pull out one from the other and talking to my guest tonight kind of reinforced that idea These conversations came out of the fact that I'm lucky enough to know people who are very, very good at what they do, they’re  masters of their craft. And every once in a while I would finish a conversation and get to the end of it and think, I wish everyone could have heard what I just did. And a lot of times I wish that I could hear it myself again. And now we can. In this series on mastery, I'm bringing guests who are very, very good at what they do, and they're nice enough to talk to me about it. So tonight I am talking about mastery with one of the best bartenders I know. Toby Maloney, Co-owner of the Violet Hour in Chicago, Co-owner of Mother's Ruin, soon to come in Chicago, writer and OG bartender who's been around even longer than I have, which is saying quite a bit. Toby has always been a dichotomy. He's the snappiest dresser you'll ever see, but he also loves working in dive bars. He's one of the few people who has won a James Beard Award that I would rely on to help me break up a bar fight with me. Toby was both the first bartender ever hired at the original Milk and Honey and can speak very eloquently about that. But also speak just as eloquently about the value of working as a bartender in a nightclub. He has worked at all kinds of places and knows that all of those experiences make his cocktail making just...better. We start a conversation and we hit the ground running, as old bartenders often do. But before we do that, I just want to say one thing. Because we're talking about bartenders. I would remind you that we are still bartenders, which means we do work for tips. So if you like what you're hearing, give some love to our tip jar On Venmo at The Cotton Club-Staff, that's the Commonwealth Club-Staff and you'll see a QR code for PayPal right here in the description. All of that money goes to support the staff until we have some kind of clarity about what's gonna happen in the future. So for all of you who have contributed, thank you so much and everybody else who is going to we appreciate you in advance. So without further ado, I'm gonna hand myself off to myself and Toby Maloney where we discuss mindset and how bartending is kind of like a cult.

Michael Neff:   2:59
(Cross talk) ... I get paranoid. So if I can get like triple recordings, I do it. But if you don't, it's no big deal, cause I have at least two going on over here.

Toby Maloney:   3:07
Well, stay sober enough that you don't break both of them. 

Michael Neff:   3:11
No. Yeah. Says says that's how I know it's old bartenders talking.” Come on, guys. You gotta count money.”

Toby Maloney:   3:21
You know Del Pedro? I remember him telling me stories about the guy who taught him how to bartend. He was like an old country guy, and he's like, “To be a bartender you only have to know two things:  “How to lie the women and count money drunk.” So I think that's all bartending is.

Michael Neff:   3:39
I mean, I appreciate that old school shit, man, but...

Toby Maloney:   3:43
Gotta listen to the people who come before you or your always reinventing the fucking margarita. And that's no fun.

Michael Neff:   3:51
That is spoken like a true veteran, but yeah...

Toby Maloney:   3:55
It could have been ”Or you're always reinventing the Old Fashioned” because that's actually been invented and then fucked up and then reinvented in my time behind the bar. 

Michael Neff:   4:07
I don't know if you get this, but you work in a lot of different cities. I've been in Houston lately and Houston is a great town for bars and great town for cocktails, but they're sometimes so fucking stubborn, I've had staff and told them that, I'm not reminiscing on the old days, but I'm trying to talk a little bit about lineage. You come from somewhere because I come from somewhere. So you should know that. And they get so stubborn, like, “Oh, Sasha Petrarsky. I guess I've heard his name.” I'm like, Okay, I'm not saying start some hero worship thing, but you should fucking know.

Toby Maloney:   4:37
Yeah, you should fucking know. I probably think of Sasha—something that he said or did, once a day. And it's not necessarily always about the bar. This quarantine thing made me less dapper than I have ever been in my life and the other day. Well, take a step back. Sasha once told me that a gentleman does not wear tennis shoes unless he is going to a sporting event in which he is participating. Like you can't even wear tennis shoes to watch a game unless you were playing in the game. You are not allowed to wear tennis shoes. And that affected me so much that in the 20 plus years I lived in New York, I wore tennis shoes twice on the Isle of Manhattan and both times I was playing in a game—in a soccer game.

Michael Neff:   5:23
My thing was always baseball hats behind the bar. I I know, I know. And I got to tell you, though, man, like when I got to, when I got to Houston after a while, just the way the kind of bar evolved, I started wearing these flat caps like the kids wear. And I'm like, just as a hat guy in general, I was like, I never thought—because baseball has looked like shit on me, so I just never wear them. Someone gave me one. I had to put it on for a picture. I looked at it. I was like, Ah, shit. That actually doesn't... That doesn't look terrible, right? And there are people who haven't seen me a long time there, just like what the fuck do you have on your head. I'm like, I know, I know. So before, before we get started, I know what I want to ask you. Like I definitely feel like There's a lot, a lot of stuff that certainly that we could talk about. But there's there's a lot that I would love to get into. Do you have something specific that you're particularly interested in, to kind of go down.

Toby Maloney:   6:15
I mean, I was thinking about something about why people in the service industry are like a family. So close knit that you know, the people that you love you absolutely love. And then there are people better like the younger brother that you just want to string along like...

Michael Neff:   6:40 an actual family, right.

Toby Maloney:   6:41
Yeah, like an actual family. And you know that I think there's a couple of interesting things, a couple of different analogies, that it's also kind of like being in a cult, mostly because you know how cults bring people in is they make people go out and do things that annoy people. And so people turn on them. Then they come back into the cult and everybody’s like, “It's all gonna be all right. Those people out there are horrible,” and I see that as a metaphor, like you're in the restaurant industry and you deal with all the public...sometimes it’s just so rough. And then you come back and you tell your war stories and everybody laughs and like, buy me a drink. It's kind of that same sort of thing. Where after a while it actually probably doesn't take that long until you're just in the service industry for life. And because you have it, too, those two incredible dichotomies of how you are with your peers and your co-workers, and how civilians in the general public look at you and treat you.

Toby Maloney:   7:47
But you also. I mean, that's interesting, though. First of all that self-reinforcing thing that, like you said, like the cult people go out and they act like dicks and then they come and just tell each other ”They're so mean out there,” you see that even still kind of in bars. But I was talking to some people on a zoom thing the other day and they asked me a question that I actually don't hate: what's one thing that you would say to a young bartender? For me, I've been on so much about mindset—because hating them, talking shit about them, or, you know, or denigrating their knowledge or all this stuff that you kind of get from people who are proud in their knowledge. I think it's apparent when you're in front of the public so that that's like a shame cycle. That reinforcing thing kind of makes makes people act worse. Just in general. The cult thing is funny because it's probably not wrong, you know. But as as lifers, I mean, I'm a lifer. I don't know what else I'm good for.

Toby Maloney:   8:48
Great. I remember the day and it wasn't all that long ago, like maybe 10 years ago, that I realized that I'm never gonna be as good at anything as I will be a bartender. I could start learning Latin at this point, and I would still never be as good Latin as I am as a bartender. I could pick up, try to pick up anything but I'm a fucking lifer and this is what I do. In that sense, the kind of relief that I felt like, OK, I don't have to be writing the next great American novel or doing something that is more...

Michael Neff:   9:31
...more what?

Toby Maloney:   9:32
...worthwhile in terms of what the general public thinks. I'm just a fucking bartender and I'm really happy with that, because I love doing it, and I'm pretty fucking good at.

Michael Neff:   9:44
I'm glad you put it that way, though, because I've often, you know... I do lots of stuff, right? I mean, in theory, I'm an OK human as far as a that stuff goes. But I realized kind of the same thing where, regardless of how good I get at whatever I choose to do, I will never be as good as that. Then I am as a bartender.

Toby Maloney:   10:07

Michael Neff:   10:08
Especially when things started to explode. We had different opportunities, and God knows, I mean. You know what that looks like, you know, and it's...I think you and I came up in the similar circumstances where you started bartending. It was one way, and then some big thing happened in the middle of it and and just kind of built this new thing. I mean, it’s not new to the world, but it certainly was new to us and to the public. What do you call that time? I call it the what I call it, like the modern cocktail movement or modern cocktail boom or something.

Toby Maloney:   10:39
I mean, I've heard it called different things, from the Second Golden Age of Cocktails to the Platinum Age of Cocktails. And nothing, really stuck. It was just... It was the beginning of a new paradigm, the beginning of a different epoch of the industry. I mean, it felt so...I actually kind of like the epoch thing because it felt like going from an ice age into another time where things were not nearly that.

Michael Neff:   11:08
Yeah, it was because you and I were both in New York in that time. Yeah. I mean, I was working downtown in Tribeca when a lot of that stuff was kind of brewing. But, you know, I've talked quite a bit now about that kind of pre-time, like, you know, figure in 1998 to 2003 in New York City. When There's all these kind of proto-cocktail bars that were almost the ones that would be the places you know. Either they just missed the boat, or they kind of developed the people that went on to go and do bigger things.

Toby Maloney:   11:37

Michael Neff:   11:39
Where were you working in?

Michael Neff:   11:41
So things that would be salient to this was I was working a place called Grainge Hall.

Michael Neff:   11:47
I know Grainge Hall...

Toby Maloney:   11:48
In the West Village. Yeah, Del Pedro worked there, and he was the 1st one to kind of look at some of the shit I was doing because I was also working the club because I could make a stupid amount of money.

Michael Neff:   11:59
Money, money, money.

Toby Maloney:   12:00
Yeah, and it was fun. I mean, I I still love that, that just pure adrenaline. And, like, four fucking deep and loud music and just breaking glass. And that chaos, I just thrive on. I mean, I made up one drink, like I think I called it the Pixie Stick. And it was like Tanqueray Malaca with kiwi and sour mix.

Michael Neff:   0:00
Wow. Fancy club.

Toby Maloney:   12:36
Oh, no. In the club. I was just making seven second fucking cosmopolitans and apple martinis and and Ketel One and, you know, 15 Ketel One and sodas at a time.

Michael Neff:   12:49

Toby Maloney:   12:50
I started working at Grange where they actually had some cool stuff and I was still in that club-head and Dell was like, “Yeah, dude, balance.” Little words like that, like, Oh, that’s cool.

Michael Neff:   13:07
But I was talking to some of my staff about that last night and especially, I think it was more true then. But so I ended up working in the same types of bars. But looking back at it, you kind of knew people that were in the same kind of bars you were in. So when I came to New York, my first job was the Hudson Hotel when it opened, and then I got out of there fast and with down to Tribeca working in restaurant bars. So when I needed a job, I went to places in that neighborhood that were kind of like that. If I‘d come up in clubs, if I needed a job, I would have known other club bartenders. And there have been like, Yeah. I mean, it's just like you kind of choose your own lane. You just kind of end up in your own lane because you're like, “Well, shit, that place closed down. Like, where am I gonna go?” And your friend calls you up and says, “Hey, come work with me.”

Toby Maloney:   13:48
Yeah, absolutely. And I was part of a crew that we bounced around and we hit... We worked in, like when the club slowed down or one person got fired. We all like, OK, where we going? And we move on to the next club, it would either slow down or somebody got fired. And I had a friend who works at Great Jones. And one night, he came into, uh, Grange Hall like, “I'm taking you to a bar that I think you’re really gonna like,” and he took me to Milk and Honey, and that was... That daiquiri changed my life like, 100%. I still worked in the club because I could make money to afford to work in cocktail bars because there were nights at Milk and Honey where I made literally negative $40.

Michael Neff:   14:28
Right? Because you stopped at the store on the way.

Toby Maloney:   14:31
Right? By the time you pay for your dry cleaning, get a cup of coffee, a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of Maker's Mark that Sasha tells you you need to pick up on your way down, and then not one single person comes in.

Michael Neff:   14:42
What year was this?

Toby Maloney:   14:44
I started at Milk and Honey, I was the first bartender hired there. I started, I think, in February, March of 2000. Okay, it has only been open a couple of months. It was really dead then, so I would go in. I carried my own bar tools, and I was cocktail geek, and we would sit around and just stir martinis and put thermometers in them and do science stuff. And he was burnt after doing all the construction and working there six nights a week. It was like, “Hey, let me take a day from you. You're not allowed in here. Go fucking have it. Laundry. Have a date with...”

Michael Neff:   15:22
Somebody, right?

Toby Maloney:   15:23
“...somebody, have a little bit of a life.” And, you know, in a couple months, when you're feeling better, take it back and I was there five and a half years.

Michael Neff:   15:34
Well, that's funny that that exact time. So February, March of 2000 is when I moved to New York City.

Toby Maloney:   15:41

Michael Neff:   15:43
Let me ask you a couple of things, though. As we go through, I want... I'm gonna touch on these things about the mastery stuff because I'm trying to, like, kind of use that as a through line. I was gonna originally bring on people, As you know, for him, I'm like, you know, he's such a trainer. I'm, like, makes sense like master head. But it just doesn't it turns out it doesn't work that way. And it's not like is that you can't I don't want to limit the conversation to one thing. So what I'm going to do now is just talk to people I think, who are, like you can feel it and then talk about whatever you want. But I do. I am curious to see how do you feel about the concept? Because it's just words I made up. But it seemed to make sense to me. And I'm wondering if how you contextualized the idea of Master in general.

Toby Maloney:   16:31
I think It's really interesting because I one of the things I tell my bark tender when they're when they're just coming up is you need to eventually decide what kind of bartender you wanna be. There are the bartenders who love service, and they just want to put their fuckin head down and being out 600 cocktail tonight and barely deal with the humanity

Michael Neff:   16:56

Toby Maloney:   16:56
sitting at the bar, that's great. I love those guys. There's marketers who want, want to learn as much as they possibly can about Jin or about medical. Or, you know, they do that. They're history buffs, bartenders who want to be able to tell you exactly the date that the ramos gin fizz first was made. And I think people kind of fall into that. But to have an idea of like in the beginning, you're kind of general with Cecava when you're in college and you taking a bunch of shit, try to figure out what your

Michael Neff:   17:27
liberal arts

Toby Maloney:   17:29
Yeah, exactly. Real heard, Major. And then you kind of poke around and something spurs. You're not your interest, and you keep going deeper and deeper in that. The only thing that really nothing only things. The things that interest me the most in taking a bunch of different things and putting them together and then using the proper technique to make something delicious. I love churches. I don't want to fucking know everything about churches. I want to know that 1/4 out of green chart truth works when you're dealing with certain chins and happen out when you're dealing with certain oh, disease and figuring out that balance and being able to make cocktails really, really interesting, delicious and boxful, that's where the rubber hits the road for me.

Michael Neff:   18:19
I'm gonna challenge you on that real quick, though, because I also know that you have no problem pulling shifts in a dive bar. So

Toby Maloney:   18:28
I don't love it.

Michael Neff:   18:30
I know as do as do I. And there's something about making good cocktails in that environment that I also love. But I wonder how much of what you're saying is also informed by the fact that you're still like it's not. It's not common for people at our age and in our in our kind of people who are also involved in mixology thing in the community, like all that stuff. Just still be pulling ships, and a lot of them say specifically like, I don't want to be behind the bar anymore. I only want to be behind the bar E every part of my job that is not like behind the bar working a shift. I'm just like, Well, she had, I guess I got to do this. But if I had my way, I would do nothing but say like, Look, I'll work everyone shift and give you all the money like I don't I don't I don't want the tips. I just want that. That's what feeds me. How much of that do you think you have?

Toby Maloney:   19:19
A lot. I mean, I'm well over 50 now, and my knees have put in 40 years in the industry, and I can't work that. I can't just physically cannot work that 10 Our ship anymore. Yeah, if I could work five days a week like a 4 to 6 hour shift that you know that happy hour when it's really busy, that's my happy player.

Michael Neff:   19:46
Well, and it's also that's that's motivation, probably more than anything else to open your own bars.

Toby Maloney:   19:51
I don't I don't work out. I There's no way that I could polish shifted platter. Those are insanely long hours. Really hard, like Yuck. But that guy was bartending is a young man's game,

Michael Neff:   20:07

Toby Maloney:   20:07
Young? A couple of summers ago, I went up to months vineyard and I worked literally in a guy. But like, where there was, there was a fight every night. And there was certainly no fresh juice or anything like that. And I was popping bud lights and corn Tito's soda. I

Michael Neff:   20:27
How did you get that gig? Because I want to do it next summer.

Toby Maloney:   20:31
Um, uh, my friend T J Mother

Michael Neff:   20:38

Toby Maloney:   20:40
J. Lynch worked on a project in India with this guy who bought a bar in Martha's Vineyard. We went up to do some consulting. You have this idea that this guy bar was should have deepened cocktail. Um, and we went up there for a few days, and the owners like, Hey, do you want to come back in the summer and work

Michael Neff:   21:03
100%? Yes, I do. Yeah, Yeah, I love it, man. When I moved to L. A, I found this little bar called three clubs, which I still I walked in there. I'm like I love this place happened to meet the owner. And then, you know, one thing led to another, and I, you know, I kind of updated the program to fit the space and worked in this kind of 25 year old kind of Hollywood. It's hard to call it a dive, but it wasn't, you know, it wasn't, You know, we still had shitty ice like whatever, but like like I I love that shit.

Toby Maloney:   21:39
Me dio.

Michael Neff:   21:42
Hey, folks, we're talking to the great Toby Maloney, master, bartender and co owner of Violent Our in Chicago and Mother's Ruin, which will also be in Chicago in opening soon. We're gonna take a quick palate cleanser when we come back. The difference between cooking and mixology Toby breaks my brain way. Talk about how Claire is very important. Cocktail ingredient. So stated, folks, we know you're separated in your missing your bars. And I have to assure you that your bars with you too. So until you can come back, we do have a nightly life Virtual bar to head hope on Instagram every night at 9 30 Central time 10 o'clock eastern time. Seven o'clock Pacific Time way Make cocktails. We have guests. Superdome basically work. We work to take all that extra stuff that you're missing that doesn't have anything to do with drinking and bring that to you. So come join us. We're there every night, and it's either.

Toby Maloney:   22:41
There's also the part where once he's been in cocktail bars forever, it's almost too easy. You know, you any ankle can get behind the bar at the company or the violet hour or angle or any of these you know here and making delicious because they have great. I have the best juice. They have 400 bottles in their back bar like you would have to go out of your way to fuck something up where if you're trying to make a few good cocktail tonight and not many people want him. But when somebody comes in and ask you for a sidecar or last word or something, and figuring out how to make that in a dive bar is challenging,

Michael Neff:   23:22
you just broke the Internet of my head and you just kind of zeroed in on on issue that I've been thinking about for a long time because I 100% agree with you And, you know, it was a sad day for me in New York, because as this where I was when I when I started going to bars to get cocktails and I started getting them from people who had only been were ever worked in cocktail bars. Yeah, so you get some bartender who's worked for fight. You know, I've been a bartender for five years. A great Yeah. Your experience, Sure, but they've only worked in quote Siri, especially in those days. Serious cocktail bars. And they had all these opinions and things. And I think that the necessity, you know, necessity obviously drives innovation. But a lot of the people like you who came, like, who came up and pushed this modern cocktail movement forward. You couldn't have done what you did unless you worked in those clubs, I imagine. And a lot. I'm I'm sure a lot of what you learned in those clubs kind of bleeds out into what you do now. Like that that's in me is still incredibly important.

Toby Maloney:   24:24
100. You have t b. A well rounded bartender is very important. Like I want to call it a school for a very small amount of time. And if that point I was about 18 and I worked a lot of, um, short order situations. So I was back in and like, I could put six pans on a burner on burners with over 88 like that would easy. But the other people who had coming into the program, like they had on Lee, either done very little or they had worked in higher in places, and they ended up having to go work at, like McDonald's in other places. Teoh get muscle memory and to get speed and to understand that not everything is put into little molds To see how high you can get it, you have to be well rounded to be a really good cook.

Michael Neff:   25:22
Yeah, but also, but talking about that I mean, it's like looking at, like, experience. Eg chefs in Vegas. How do you think that kind of thing translates to the bar like I don't know if you know what I'm doing right now, but I've been I've been I decided to teach myself flair. Yeah, this I mean, I'm an old ass bartender, have worked in a lot of places, so I always have my own version of flair, and that's how I always said it. I wanted to teach myself flare because I had always had my own version of it, and it's all very natural. You know, if you snap towels, you, you flip tens, you know, fuck with bottles like we all do. But I'd never actually taught myself tricks like And when the when the Kogan 19 thing happened and we started doing this virtual bar thing, I started recording masterclass type situations, expecting people who were younger or whomever to say, like, this is our literally saying this is our time to look at what we do and learn new things. I looked at myself. I'm like, Well, I mean, I gotta learn to shit, too. Uh, that to me ties directly in that idea of Master the hands. You know, I do have my idea flare behind the bar, and it's very evident is this is just a way for me to kind of learn some other person's way of doing it. And also, and I can't wait to go back to a shift with some of the new like bullets and my bandolier.

Toby Maloney:   26:39

Michael Neff:   26:40
what what do you. How much? How much of your show off stuff do you think? Do you think plays into the actual experience that people have in the drinks, like what they put in their mouths?

Toby Maloney:   26:52
It's huge. We're not talking about where that literally somebody like juggling a bottle for three minutes before they pour two ounces of vodka into a thing we're talking about actual, like functional or working flair, that where you can put bottles and been bottle right and do those sorts of things.

Michael Neff:   27:12
I'm not talking about contest flare, even though that's those of the videos. I'm watching, but I'm pulling out like little flips in, like from those contest things saying, Oh, yeah, I want to do that. They're just sitting there like practicing it over and over it. It's awesome.

Toby Maloney:   27:27
I love it. I have been working the clubs. I definitely had started flaring sort of things like, I'm no flip barking, you know, Great Sammy J. ROC is incredible about

Michael Neff:   27:38

Toby Maloney:   27:39
Yes, he is. Um, he could give their like, slip a bottle and catching on his forearm, and and I thought that would be cool for convict, but I think it comes down to a confidence and that how that relates to a customer facing thing. Anybody who's sitting in a bar and is watching the bartender fuck shit up and it looks like it's their first ship and they don't know what they're doing. And they're dropping things and selling things and, you know, their stations of Mass and they're doing anything where they don't know where things are. You automatically are like my drink because they don't know what they're doing. And Claire is that thing where you look so confident and you were doing things that are so far above and beyond what the customer could do, they automatically have more confidence in you, right until you glasses think. But I think it comes down to the confidence that you exude. And if you can fucking nail those flare moves, the people,

Michael Neff:   28:45
I think so, too. I mean, I was watching the live stream that Southern Take was doing, and I love Souther. I love chatting him with him about all these things, and I don't know that he would agree with this. But he said something to a random question on his on his life stream, and he said the experience of cocktails. 90% olfactory like through the third smell. I would I would say the experience of a cocktails 90% in its neurology, like in all this stuff around it. And then you have to do it right, Like the 10% is making it right. 10% is saying, Okay, I you know, I put the right things in the glass, and I made I made the combination of stuff, but to make something that makes someone really have those kind of life altering like, Oh my God, I'm coming here every night experiences. I would argue 90% of that is, if not flare at least a different version of flair which includes all this stuff, all the presentation, all the mizzen plus defensive tools. What music you're playing like how you're dressed. How you treat people like all that stuff to me is is as important as, say, recipes.

Toby Maloney:   29:52
I would disagree with you. I would say it two times is more important than what's in the glass. People will go back to a bar that has great service and mediocre drink, But if you have great drinks and mediocre service, people are like

Michael Neff:   30:07
Yeah, And I think that's why these conversations are interesting to me, especially in terms of things like, you know, trying to do like something like a masterclass, because ultimately comes down to training and so much of training. And that's what I wanted to talk to Julian about, right? His. He has to take strangers to the business and make them into people who can make drinks, which I totally respect, especially cause I've had to do some of that, too. And so I shit is hard. But when you're looking at, if you're looking at trying to make those drink makers into bartenders like actual bartenders, that's that time in training where you're like, OK, now you know how to actually just do the basics of the job. Like you said, your the liberal arts thing, it's like congratulations. You got your associates degree. You know you can make drinks. Now let's figure out what kind of bartender you're gonna be like. That's a very compelling way to put it from a because eventually everyone has to say, What what experience do I want people have in my cocktails because my cocktails air presented in environments

Toby Maloney:   31:06
given between bartending and cooking is Cooking is a marathon and bartending in figure skating that both were insanely hard. But nobody gives a fuck what you look like a the end of the marathon, and you have to be smiling and still look good. A to end of a bargaining chip that no matter how hard you're working, you have to have this presence in the giving off the happy hospitality vibe while you're being founded, where in the kitchen you can curse. And obviously that's not the best way to do things. But it's just a different sort of skill set to get your teeth and held a 20 person that you don't have. You know,

Michael Neff:   31:56
that's funny, because there's very much a show must go on. Vibe, which is obviously different, means a little bit different in the kitchen because they don't have to present. You know, Julian had talked about bartenders being both producer of stuff and seller of stuff, which is which is great, cause that's I mean, that's certainly true in a restaurant is pretty unique. I've been talking because we have this virtual bar. Now we're trying to figure out first of all, what that even means what it means to be a bartender in it. But we still have those same moments, like there has been nights when, especially cause we're kind of sequestered together and with the same people all the time. We're trying. We're trying to do this thing, and instead of when the doors open, you know, we might be kind of fighting or pouting or just like whatever we're doing. And then as soon as as soon as that nine o'clock time hits when we do it, everyone just says, Okay, this is like, now, now we're working. It doesn't matter whose bad it doesn't matter who's pissed. It doesn't matter what we're talking about. And then as soon as the camera turns off and we got, we just literally go right back to it and that, like, I remember those service days where you have to just kind of suck up, you know, like my girlfriend broke up with me like this is a drag. I think that's part of its power. I mean, as much as it sucks, like we're supposed to still experience life. But I'm not I'm not, You know, I'm not trying to give my life to the people who are sitting in my bar.

Toby Maloney:   33:15
Yeah, I mean, it's looking at that way. It is kind of like acting kind of like drugs where you get a certain amount of time where you have to stop thinking about yourself and you just start to give out everybody else and you get the hours where Forget about all of the weird stuff that's volunteer around in your head because you need to do all these other things for other people. Not really cool

Michael Neff:   33:41
thing. We're here with the great Toby Maloney talking Master the head, hands and heart. When we come back, we're gonna talk about that first wonderful moment when you're drinks, start making themselves and we rehash an age old bartender debate. So stay tuned, folks. Have you been titillated or tickled pink by anything you heard today way set up a virtual tip Char on Venmo at the Cotton Mouth Club dashed out, and that that's a me kind of ties into that, both that kind of the idea of the kind of master of the hands, but also that master the heart, where you know the hands thing I even thought of it in terms of just the automation that you get when you're first of all when your bartender at all. But second of all, when you've worked in a bar for a long time, you know? So you're I mean, you're milking 95 years, right? I imagine after a while you just kind of know it so well that there's so that when your body starts to automate itself and freeze your head to actually do shit to think about your customers, play music or anticipate needs or whatever those moments are, those moments are really the first time. I remember the first time I experienced that just in life, and it was behind the bar and I had to sit for a while. I just kind of evaluate, like what the fuck has happened to me. But that was kind of like and and you get that in clubs a lot, right? That kind of like moment when you're 10 deep at the bar and just crushing it, and you're like, Yeah, this is fucking This is this is awesome.

Toby Maloney:   35:18
Absolutely. I talked to people who are just starting out who like memorizing stack respects in old fashioned back in my Manhattan the day where instead of making sensitivity thing, I needed doctoring and you in your head go okay so that Trump's record around lime juice and simple syrup, a coupe and then a lime wheel it will stop being that, and it will be a decorated one thing. Your body does it and you're talking to the person and then all the sudden made and it's in front of them. You're like, How the fuck?

Michael Neff:   35:54
No, its fastest fuck. And as soon as people you know I love those moments when, as people are giving their drink orders, you give them their first drink before they're finished ordering all their drinks. And you're like, Well, here's your decorated. I mean, we're hard he started. But that's also not a cocktail bar thing, necessarily. I mean, that's not that's not how people are trained to act.

Toby Maloney:   36:14
You lock, but what you mean That's not who's not trained to act like that.

Michael Neff:   36:18
I mean, okay, I'm going to speak a little bit out of turn because I've only been to a bunch of what you would style cocktail bars, and I've done guest shifts and some of them, But I've never I've never worked at a death and company type place because by that point I'd already opened my own stuff. So it's just like now how it went. What I have observed in a lot of places like that is the style of services such as you taken entire order. Then you go back and make an entire order. I think a lot of those things were probably changing is this thing starts to hybridize and the hybridization is what I love because I do love the cocktails, but I don't always like the environment. Or at least I don't always want the environment. It's hard. It's hard to discard your first trainings. And so when people's first trainings and are that, there's still, I think there's still people who wouldn't who don't have that club instinct, because this is like, OK, cool, like as you're talking, I'm making drinks like I'm gonna get him all out like that's That's where we're at. I might be wrong, and if I am didn't tell me

Toby Maloney:   37:14
No, I think that I think like mothers is one of those great hybrid where

Michael Neff:   37:20
Mother's ruin

Toby Maloney:   37:20
your body. Mother's ruin. New York, New York, loverboy New York mothers who in Nashville and then brothers were in trouble. When that opens, that will be part of the training is as people are ordering, you are looking at him, but you're putting, you know, you're setting glass where you're putting tens up, you're starting to make drinks as you're listening to the order and I've got a part.

Michael Neff:   37:45
I think that brings up an interesting thing. And I was thinking about playing this game with you, and I don't know if you'd be willing to do it, but we haven't heard as much lately about the free poor versus jiggering debate because it's just not a debate anymore. You know, the clientele has been trained to say, like if you don't have a jigger, you're not doing it right or you're not measuring or whatever. I mean, I'm very firmly on the side, like I know where I'm from. Uh, it's harder to train Freeport bartenders now just because it's so hard to do. Use glass on 10 and I've even started to evolve a little bit on that in my regard. But it's hard to train free poor bartenders on 10 just 10 on 10. And if you have a better way to do it, I would love to hear it because I've always had, like, mixing glass thing.

Toby Maloney:   38:26
I came from free poor and then was very staunchly in the jigger only camp for many years. And now boats are great. It depends on how good you are at it and both their hard have upside. Both have downsides. I think that you have to decide for your bar which one you want to do, and it's really simple. That is what what the what the house need. And then you can train anybody do anything. I completely disagree that you need a glass on 10 Boston shape to do. Freeborn,

Michael Neff:   39:03
I'm with you. I'm with you. I just I've always treated when I'm training people to freak or it's always been with glass. So I've had to evolve my training into free pouring because I'm not using glass on 10 anymore.

Toby Maloney:   39:17
Yeah, I think the biggest the biggest piece of reporting is when you open up, you have to have people come in and you have to set up this little thing where bottled their full water, that obviously that and they come in and for two minutes they just calibrate there there's a bigger and record you can

Michael Neff:   39:39
you don't An eight

Toby Maloney:   39:40
count, which is two out of my head,

Michael Neff:   39:42
have seen according

Toby Maloney:   39:43
to see where you are and you do that for just long enough until you can import proper eight count proper four count and popular or whatever. And once you have got in your head for however you're feeling and how captain is, you are tired or whatever. You're pretty much if the right place to start and then you have to be in your head realizing as music, it's faster and you get more adrenaline or you drink more coffee. These things are gonna change it, but that's stretching part like nobody's gonna run a race by getting out of bed and going directly to the start line and running. You have to stretch a little bit. Get your mind your body in the place where you can actually run. And so, by doing little report exercises, you are stretching the point where you can go for the rest of the evening calibrated and ready to make drink. In a report.

Michael Neff:   40:39
Yeah and calibrating. I think is important even when you're talking about jiggers and I mean frankly, now I use both.

Toby Maloney:   40:46

Michael Neff:   40:47
but we still I mean, we still live in. I still remember the days when I'd look at Barton is a cocktail bars jiggering of oc Isoda and wondering why they're missing the for me, Freeport is all about presentation, and it's hard to keep your attention forward if you have to put all of your attention down on a mat or like in a cup, like there's nothing I like better than having, you know, two or three tens in my hand and a bottle and just like, you know, pouring what I need in those tens and walking around looking at people being like, Hey, I'll be right back or hey, what's going on? Oh my God, I'm so glad you're here. Like all that shit to me is just like that's the hustle. It's the fun part, you know. You can't get that if you're doing if you're jiggering everything because you can't move around as much. But also there's a lot that I've kind of learned about the importance of some kinds of precision and also, you know, I don't have. I don't have a back bar full of bottles with with poor sponsor money on him anymore. Because you're because it doesn't look is pretty. It looks prettier if they all have their caps on him.

Toby Maloney:   41:49
I hear that 100% looking on. He never had a single poor in the plate like we caps off of everything. And we even lemon and lime, you know, was poured out of a picture with, you know, So that's one side of it. At the same time, I think teaching people to do both what you can do is, if you have that eight count in your head you started two ounce pour into your trigger. You should at that point, be able to look up for six counts. You would look down just before you're ready, toe cut. In That way, you can You're not constantly looking

Michael Neff:   42:26
Well, this and that's also part of that kind of master of the hands thing that I was talking about is that now I can do that without I mean, you say out account, I say for I would love to hear you actually count that out for me because it's I mean, it's a cool thing, but what was your account?

Toby Maloney:   42:43
It's like 12345678

Michael Neff:   42:48
Ok, that's all right. Yeah, I get that

Toby Maloney:   42:50
on that way each. That way, count is 1/4 of an out,

Michael Neff:   42:54
right? And if you need 1/4 a one or 1/2 or 3/4 Yeah, that's great. I'm gonna take us over here. What are you drinking?

Toby Maloney:   43:02
Um, I have a beer and margarita and a little bit of tequila. Quickly on that point, The guy who introduced me to milk and honey his solution to it. Waas because he realized that depending on the music and depending on all these other factors that just townley it's easy to count looking for make or the other way really close. So he would say, Created some pretty

Michael Neff:   43:32

Toby Maloney:   43:34
and that that was his a count

Michael Neff:   43:37
that since your mindset issue, I've never heard anything like that. My life it's amazing.

Toby Maloney:   43:42
And I thought it was really cool because pretty, like in my head, I'm seem like my little pony. I

Michael Neff:   43:49
know, but imagine Imagine if you go all night just chanting to yourself Pretty pony all night long like Imagine how you feel at the end of the night. That kind of idea of master of hands is you know, a lot of that counting, even though I kind of still do it in my head. A cocktail to me is so visceral because, like I can, you know, I keep it close to my face like I could smell it. I can hear it. I can feel I've filled so many tens with liquid that I can almost feel in my hands when it's done.

Toby Maloney:   44:28
Yeah, for me, it's the I don't count anymore either. Um, it's the feeling of the bubbles feel the bubbles coming into the bottle as the liquids going out with a speed course I can feel when that starts. And then I just know when it toe cut it to.

Michael Neff:   44:46
That's the time in the practice, right? Because a lot of people you know, a lot of people wouldn't even necessarily notice that kind of thing. And even when I started, even when I got to that point where I could do that, I didn't necessarily identify it. Also, just like I know it's done, it's done like Why would I think about why it's done. It's just is. And then just going down this path may be really kind of sit and dissect what it was that I was noticing. A lot of that is that time and experience, and that's what to me that is so important to the experience of a cocktail someone I would sit at your bar and just watch you make drinks and drink cocktails all day long. Well, before I would go to a brand new cocktail bar with someone who just got out of mixology school or some shit and had some kind of pedigree. Just because there's a natural nous to it that you can't buy and it just comes with time in space, how do you train that?

Toby Maloney:   45:38
So wait do, um and what we do is we. We start with people behind the bar with water bottles, and we literally just have them pouring into jigger and of senior bar tentative in front of a go. Yet you were low on that one. You are high on that one. You're bigger was point leans towards me. So that was wrong, because it is it. Fucking wax on, wax off. It's just doing it. The years that you can spend or the shift you could spend in clubs or dive bars. Where you just pouring Jack and coke? Just having that where? You know what? An hour and 1/2 or two out of kids doing that 10,000 times, 20,000 times. That gets to the point where you pick up a jigger. You already know what that court feels like. You stopped counting and what it is, you

Michael Neff:   46:31
know. And I actually love that because, you know, training. I like training free pouring for jigger bartenders because you're still free pouring years is doing it in the device. If you're actively choosing to remember that you still want that feeling in your body, then you're always gonna need the jigger. But, you know, it's not like gumbos feather at a certain point, you know, some people, even though they very well know what two ounces feels like coming out of a poor spout. They still pick up a jigger, just like no, just give me to fucking ounces

Toby Maloney:   47:01
on that. The two things that annoy me the most are when somebody has a jigger and they pour like about an hour and 1/2 in it and then that they dump

Michael Neff:   47:10
I know in

Toby Maloney:   47:11
the 10 and then and then pour I

Michael Neff:   47:14
e No,

Toby Maloney:   47:15
like you're literally doing your fucking things up to wait.

Michael Neff:   47:20
I know you're making You're making everybody look bad. Then

Toby Maloney:   47:22
the other one is where three poor people poor and then they look at it and then they pour just a little bit. Warren, like giving you something extra or if you're free pouring into a tin, pour the right amount. Don't have to do that extra dash, because that's just annoying.

Michael Neff:   47:40
Yeah, and it's also, I mean, I've had people say to me in regards to free pouring. It's like, Oh, you don't measure. I'm like, No, I accurately measure. I have just trained myself to measure from a pour spout instead of into a tiny little cup. I mean, yes, I will close my eyes and turn over my shaker tin, and I swear to God there would be no liquid dripping out of this glass. Um, you know, it's part of that show off shit. But I mean, I'm a show off from bartender,

Toby Maloney:   48:08
were also

Michael Neff:   48:09
I hope so. You know, they have to be entertained by us to. And speaking of showing off, I think that's enough showing off for one day you heard the first episode of a two part conversation on bars on cocktails, mixology philosophy with me, Michael Jnf and the great Toby Maloney, co owner of The Violet Hour in Chicago, and soon become Mothers Room in Chicago. We're gonna wrap it up there for now, but coming soon. Part two of our conversation, which really dives into the heart of it. I do want to remind you before you go, if you do like what you're hearing and you like what we're doing, please stop by Venmo and throw tipping our tip jar. It's the Cotton Mouth Club dash staff. All the money goes to kind of support the efforts and support staff until we figure out what's going on here. So we really appreciate all your support, Really, thank you for listening. You can also see in the description on this podcast there's a little Q R code that'll take you to PayPal. So any contribution that you have is appreciated, and I'm very excited to present in the next episode of this podcast the second and final part of our conversation with Mr Toby Maloney. So look for that coming up. And in the meantime, stay safe. Stay separate. Don't touch your face, wash your hands and let's look this thing so we can go back to some version of the life we all deserve. So you have my thanks, and we'll see you next time.

Ch. 1: Advice from old bartenders...
On Lineage & Sartorial Changes
On Being In the Service Industry
On the Early Days of a New Epoch in Cocktails
The Making of Toby Maloney & Early Mild and Honey
Toby Maloney on Mastery in General
On Cocktails in Dives vs. Cocktails in Cocktail Bars
On Flair as An Essential Ingredient of Cocktails
Making Drink Makers Into Bartenders
How Bartending is Kind of Like Acting, Kind of Like Drugs
On Mastery of the Hands
When Your Cocktails Start Making Themselves
Jigger vs. Free Pour (Redux)
“Pretty Pony”
On Time & Practice
On How to Annoy and Old Bartender