Hugh Fiore is a bartender at Eastern Standard in Boston, Massachusetts. He is pictured with a glass of Buffalo Trace bourbon neat and a Narragansett.
The bourbon and beer chaser is our most popular drink so far.
That's because people who make cocktails don't drink cocktails.
Right. After a long night you're not like, "Uh, I'd like a fanciful beverage, please."
Some people will come in at the very end of the night and get whatever… 7 daiquiris. I want a beer and I want a whiskey. There is this beautiful English bar [across the street from Eastern Standard] called Cornwall's… It's really a dive for college kids, but they're open until 2 ever day and they know all of us. I walk in there and I get a beer and a shot of Fernet and it's perfect. That's what I need. I can sit outside on their patio, have a beer, smoke a cigaret and just relax.
It's great that you say this because it is the first time that it has come up that for most in the industry shift drinks are really a utilitarian thing.
It is the first way to relax after a shift. If I am lucky enough to be able to go out after my shift then I don't want something complicated. I want something smooth and fluid.
When did you become a bartender?
I have been a bartender since 2006. I started in Connecticut at this tiny little bar that had 8 seats. I knew nothing about the job but we squeezed fresh juice every day and we made our own syrups. Everything was really classically done. Margaritas were made with lime juice, sweetener and tequila because it was before the sour mix and powdered mix era. I started with this really great background of tradition. I did that there for a year and a half. I learned a lot through trial by fire.
Then I moved to Boston in 2007 and I was lucky enough to meet Jackson Cannon at Eastern Standard and he asked if I wanted a job. I was like, "Sure? Yes?" I was scared out of my wits. I have been there ever since.
What was that first 6 months there like?
It was very scary. I thought I was a pretty good bartender until I started working with Jackson and Bob McCoy and Nicole Lebedevitch and Kevin Martin and Tom Schlesinger, who is the GM at Island Creek now. They taught me more than I had ever thought I'd know, and they taught me not only about spirits and things like that but they also taught me about interactions with people and guests and the way to give people good service.
The one thing about working at Eastern Standard is that you are open every day — they are open for 363 days a year. You are always working and to deal with the amount of volume that we do provides the best learning curve. Between fancy dinners and baseball [Editors Note: Eastern Standard is virtually directly across the street from Fenway Park], you can't really go wrong.
What have you learned is most important when providing for guests a great experience? What is the best way to take care of people?
What is in this glass is not as important as how much fun someone on the other side of the bar is having. I always like to tell people that the drinks, the beer, the wine and the food — that's all free. What you're paying for is to be here and to be happy. You're paying for the experience. As long as you're having an enjoyable time, then I am doing my job. Mixing drinks is really fun, but I can make somebody just as happy pouring for them a beautiful glass of wine.
I have never heard it put that way. I really like that.
"All of this was free, this bill is for the fun." [Laughs] "That was the most fun bottle of wine you've ever had, huh?" [Laughs]
NOTE: This interview originally ran in the April of 2014.