Walter Easterbrook: Not Your Father's Bartender
Walter Easterbrook does not makedrinks. He creates them. He's been working behind a bar since he was a little kid, and has perched leg after leg on rung after rung. Working the slop nests. The tourist traps. The denizen lounges. The swanky hotel bars. He knows the customers that walk in, and knows exactly what and how much to serve them. It's been a big year for him. He had a baby girl over the summer. Recently quit his nightclub job, where he sometimes would make upwards of $1,500 in tips (a night) and is weaning off his other barman shifts. He may be signing out of the shake-up world for good, and signing in to a new social media realm, with a site that could change the way bartenders, liquor companies and event planners interact. Tentatively titled Beverage Director-a site in the making-will be your one-stop hot shop for the professional liquor world.
How have you created a full time profession from bar tending?
It's mainly through the contacts that I've met at the bar and the contacts from the liquor companies. Seeing what everyone else in the industry is doing and making it my own. Adding my capabilities and applying it to better my life and my work.
What's the professional climb been like?
I started at the very bottom when I was younger: dishwashing. When I came to New York, I was working for corporate places. Not really the sexiest place to be in NYC. That climb took years, because I was the bar tender at some cheesy restaurant somewhere. Once I got to a more well respected place, it's an even tougher climb because you want to break away from being a really great bartender or consultant, and make something different for yourself. How do you separate yourself from the rest? That's what's been difficult the last year and a half, finding something that no one else in the industry is doing, or doing several different things at once.
How'd you find the one thing no one else in the industry is doing?
To me it was to take everything in front of me and just start? doing. I started meeting with everybody. Liquor reps. Technology people. Marketing and advertising people. Anyone I thought was smarter than me. Everyone that came into my bar wanted to take me out for drinks, dinner, lunch, coffee and I just said yes to everything. I asked question and I listened. "I have an idea, what do I do?" And people would give me the answers or point me in the direction of people who had them. Before I knew it I was in front of people who needed bar products or wanted technology in the bar world. I realized there were people looking for someone in the industry with the capabilities to all those things, and from there it was just forming the right partnerships.
So what are you looking to do with your integration of bar work and social media?
I'm launching a new company, Beverage Director. Within this company everything I have my hands in will be connected. I've taken on the campaign for Golden Ginger, ginger beer. We just launched Scotch Club NYC last week, which will be integrated into it as well. I've worked with several liquor companies over the years with cocktail design and events, that'll be in there as well. Working with9MMediafor the past year. We're working on concepts to improve the liquor industry. How their events are run and seen by the public. It's a management system for brand representatives to run their events and on the consumer side see the private events. I think you'll see more bar related social media.
How will the site appeal to the online public? Who will the gain access to on the site?
In the beginning it's going to be business oriented. Companies will come to us for their staffing or cocktail design or help run their events. Eventually we want to get it more consumer based. People can find out where Scotch Club will be, what Golden Ginger events will be out there with liquor companies. People are going to find out where they are, how to find them.
How do you have time to tend bar with everything that's going on?
I don't! [Laughs] I was doing five nights a week last year. I got it down to four. Now all I do is try to keep a set couple of days. I just quit Bunker and now I'm down to a couple of days a week at the Bowery Hotel. I need to keep my finger on the pulse in the liquor industry, and free myself up for work. It's been rough. It's been a nightmare but it's seriously exciting. I just had a kid as well, so sleep in 2011 was not really an option.
What's the biggest misconception about bartenders?
It used to be that people looked at you like, "Oh you're a bartender, what else do you do?" Nowadays, people just say, "Oh you're a bartender, oooh," like that's cool. When I started in '97 it was like, what else are you trying to do? But now it's more of a respected profession thanks to cocktail design and mixologists. Bartenders are more than just bartenders now, they're creators.
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