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An Interview with Mike Ryan, Director of Bars at Kimpton Hotels

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24/09/2018 In an Interview With BSA, Mike Speaks About the Current Bar and Spirits Culture, Trends and Much More

As Kimpton’s Director of Bars, Mike’s experience in the culinary and bar industry spans 15-plus years. Mike’s primary responsibilities on the core beverage team involve training and educating on-the-ground bartenders and helping open or refresh Kimpton’s collection of bars and lounges around the country. He also creates bar education programs around timely bar trends and executes lively bar summits for additional hands-on training and teambuilding.

Prior to his national role, Mike helped launch Kimpton’s Sable Kitchen & Bar in Chicago in 2010. Under Mike’s bar leadership, Sable was named one the “Best Bars in America” by Food & Wine, one of the “Best Hotel Bars in the US” by USA Today, one of the “Top 55 Whiskey Bars in the US” by Bourbon Review.

His innovative cocktails have also been featured in People magazine, Whiskey Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler and Redbook magazine. Mike was also named Nightclub & Bar’s “Bartender of the Month.” Under Mike’s direction, Kimpton’s beverage program was named “2017 On-Premise Player of the Year” by MarketWatch.

The Bartender Spirits Awards recently interviewed Mike and conversed important insights on what happens in the bar.

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Get the glimpse of this interview below.

What would you say is the spirit of the moment?

Mike: At the moment, non-Bourbon American Whiskeys are undeniably having a field day. Distillers are striking out from the familiar corn/rye/wheat/barley formula that defines bourbon. They are creating new categories and utilizing grains both old and new to create new flavours and new spirits.

How has cocktail culture changed in the past six years?

Mike: Cocktail culture, over the past six years, has matured. It has finally outgrown the overwrought, overly precious domain of the “modern speakeasy.” It has likewise matured past the counter-reactionary world of the modern “dive” bar which considers great cocktails beneath it. Both subcultures still exist of course, but as a whole, the industry is settling into an understanding that guests, for the most part, want uncomplicated but uncompromisingly great experiences.

Can you tell me about your toughest shift at a bar?

Mike: About six or seven years ago I was still running the bar at Sable. We typically ran with three bartenders and two barbacks on a Saturday night—and all of us were kept hopping throughout the shift. One Saturday I came in to find that through a miscommunication we only had two bartenders for the shift, and one of our barbacks had called off. So we headed into the shift two bodies down. We managed to keep ahead of the crowd until around 10 pm when a 50-person wedding party from the banquet space upstairs came down and met the incoming post-dinner crowd. To say we got crushed would be a tremendous understatement. We had the GM running drinks, the sous chef washing glasses, and our one barback sprinting between refilling syrups and juices, pouring beers, and changing kegs while we two bartenders took orders, made drinks, swiped cards, and generally tried to keep a handle on the zoo. The last call was a beast as well—nobody wanted to leave. When we finally shovelled the last guest out and locked the door we all just lay on the banquettes for about twenty minutes, very quietly.

What cocktails do you think will be popular this winter?

Mike: The Hot Toddy and Mulled Cider will continue to be favourites; the Old Fashioned will continue to dominate product mixes; and I think we will see a spike in light but savoury highballs featuring things like fresh cranberries, sage, and rosemary.

Do you have a focused bar program or any bar specialities?

Mike: In my role as Director of Bars for Kimpton Hotels I oversee—broadly—about 65 bar programs. I help develop the beverage concepts for our new bars and try to find new and fresh ways to present beverages to the drinking public.

What have you been mixing a lot of at Bar these days?

Mike: I don’t actually do a ton of mixology these days; I will test out new spirits for their utility in cocktails but my role is really more one of coaching and mentorship; helping develop our lead bartenders into great cocktailians and strong leaders.

The 2024 Bartender Spirits Awards results are out! View the results here.