Just last week for the 4th of July celebration, it was my duty to pick up some beer for a friends barbecue party. I went to a local Binny’s here in Chicago and I walked a little bit past the beer section and stumbled upon the cocktail section. The massive amount of bitters, glasses and all sorts of paraphernalia left me in a bit of wonder, as to what the world of mixed drinks had to offer. Just a few days later, I managed to become enlightened about the world of cocktails, when I was invited to the Chicago premier of Hey Bartender, an incredible look into the world of mixology. Directed by Douglas Tirola, Hey Bartender is an exceptional documentary that gives people insight into the alchemy that is mixology, as well give a portrayal of many of the people that have breathed new life into the age old profession that is bar tending.
The narrative aspect of the film focuses on two men, Steve Schneider and Steve “Carpi” Carpentieri, two bartenders from completely different worlds, but are identical in their beliefs on what it means to be a bartender. Schneider is a former U.S. Marine, who got his military career cut short, due to major brain injuries he received in a fight. Once he recovered from his injuries, he decided to go into bar tending and found himself ending up at Employees Only, a premier cocktail bar in New York City. Carpentieri is the bartender and owner of Dunnville’s in Westport Connecticut, a local bar that has a solid patronage, but is lacking something to bring in more business. The other aspect of Hey Bartender is an insight to the history of the profession, the modern mixologists that have reinvigorated the profession and some of the hottest bars in the country and how they came to be.
Both Steve’s in the film are charismatic, in different ways, that make you root for them and their stories in Hey Bartender. How director Douglas Tirola was able to craft the two stories together is a feat of editing and all of the footage he captured. The man somehow managed to take two totally different worlds, the corner bar and the luxury lounge and fuse them into a single narrative that champions the human spirit. Along the way, seeing the different bartenders and owners of bars across the world was enlightening and entertaining. Many of the stories and anecdotes are complete underdog tales, that come from humble beginnings. From PDT’s Jim Meehan, who’s from the midwest and won the first James Beard award for Outstanding Bar Service, to the legendary Dale DeGroff, the King Cocktail, the man who reinvented the profession of bartender, all of these stories manage to find a way to uplift and should be able to resonate with anybody and everybody.
From the slow motion shots of drinks being mixed, to the lovely people that were interviewed, Hey Bartender is a documentary that illuminates the history and culture of mixology and celebrates it, in fine form. Once the film was done, I found myself wanting to have a cocktail no less and with this coming from a self professed beer nerd, that’s proof positive that Hey Bartender has got the goods! Highly Recommended!