Disclosure: Eventide Oyster Co. is a client of ours, though their representation here has nothing to do with our scope of work with them. In fact, they are helping us out by lending their credibility to our project and we are grateful for that.
Why that Manhattan?
My favorites change depending on what time of year it is. They tend to change seasonally, where I go from the brown spirits in the Fall and Winter and into the clear—like Gin—in the Summer. But I can always enjoy a Manhattan. It is something I can sip on. You can sit down and hang out and you don't have to rush through it. It is complex and it has got a lot of layers of flavor and it is kind of sweet and kind of boozy.
Do you have any memories that surround the Manhattan in particular… Or lack of memories for that matter?
I am sure there a lot of associations that involve a lack of memory, especially after the 4th and 5th Manhattan. You never remember that 6th one. [Laughs] That's weird.
I think this is one of the first whiskey cocktails—this and the Old Fashioned—that I ever had. I was just kind of in love with it... intrigued, pleased and happy. And my Mom's father—he died before I was born... I know he drank Manhattans. Maybe I have some sort of genetic memory attached to the drink.
And even for people who don't have in mind a specific family member, there are always some older people in their lives who they tend associate with drinking Manhattans.
When I started bartending I would have made a Manhattan a lot different from how I would make a Manhattan now. Most people would want the barest whisper of vermouth and they really want mostly whiskey with a cherry. They just wanted cold whiskey in a martini glass, essentially. Now I do it where one third is basically vermouth and you can actually get the complexity of that. But it is funny how you make Manhattans for all of these little old ladies at lunch time that are putting back 4 ounces of cold whisky. It's like, "They're awesome. Those ladies are awesome!"
How did you end up getting behind the bar in the first place?
My dad worked for a company that owned a restaurant. I was 15 and needed a Summer job so I started washing dishes there and cutting vegetables and stuff like that. I then started hosting and I worked there until I was 18. I needed some money in college and so I started waiting tables at restaurants in New York. I think one of the bartenders was leaving the restaurant, they asked me if I wanted to do it and I said yes.
So I started learning about being a bartender there. When I moved back to Maine, I kept doing that but when I moved to Portland I learned that there was this whole other side of it. I learned about drinks that were well put together and made sense and tasted good… That a margarita is more than just powdered sour mix and that there is actually lime juice in there and sugar and tequila and that it was a totally different drink.
What about those revelations appealed to you?
I think it is just like anything that you start to care about. You start caring about quality on another level, especially when your craft is related to your employment. When you care about doing it, it brings a whole new level of enjoyment. When you care about the quality of ingredients you are using and the fresh juices and the homemade concoctions, it keeps it interesting and makes it worth doing.
Who else do you admire in the world of well made cocktails?
The other John Myers for sure. Roxanne [Dragon of Hugo's] is an amazing bartender. She's great. And across the country there are all sorts of people doing all kinds of amazing work. It is great to watch the progress and see the different ways different people are doing interesting things. .
How is it for you that there is another John Myers in the same small town you work in—who has been doing it forever, we should say—who is also a highly regarded bartender?
It's weird, man. It's really weird. But it's cool! Before I moved to Portland I used to use that to my advantage a lot, making reservations that I otherwise wouldn't be able to get by saying that I was John Myers and I would show up and they'd think, "Who the fuck are you?" But it's cool! I have met him and we've hung out… He met my mom the other day. My family was at Hugo's and we were all having a big Myers family dinner. John was having a drink at the bar and came over and met all my Myers family and it turns out he and my mom share the same birthday. It's so crazy, you know. And he is really good at what he does and he is really smart.
NOTE: This interview originally ran in April of 2014.