November 2015 Bartender of the Month: Ulysses Vidal
Name: Ulysses Vidal
Establishment: Bar Manager, Employee Only – New York, NY
Recent Gigs: Originally from Dallas, Texas, Ulysses moved to New York City at 21 years of age and got caught up in the cocktail scene. He has now been working at Employees Only for four years and has learned much about this industry. Starting off working at the bottom as a stocker in the apprentice program, he began assuming assistant bar manager responsibilities which include ordering, bar maintenance, syrup and puree production, experimental projects, coordinating large-scale events for various charities and off-premise events, managing stocker and apprentice schedules, vendor relations, managing costs, participating in press interviews and menu development within 6 months. He has had the opportunity to travel to distilleries in Mexico, Panama and Kentucky and has been BarSmarts trained as well as attended countless tastings and seminars through the Manhattan Cocktail Classic and Portland Cocktail Week. At Portland Cocktail Week 2014, he had the spectacular opportunity to attend classes which focused on Product Innovation and Development and was also chosen to participate in the Bacardi Bar Build Out Challenge. This last event gave him the insight of how a concept goes from nothing to a real thing while also bearing in mind the notions of costs versus revenue versus profit.
Why did you become a bartender?
I was 18 years old, working in retail at the local mall where I grew up outside of Dallas, Texas, and I had heard that bartending was a lucrative job. I had no idea at the time that it could turn into a career. I knew I probably wasn't going to get hired without experience so I got a job waiting tables to help work my way up. Before my 21st birthday, I got promoted to the bartender position at a Dave & Buster's in my hometown, Frisco, Texas. It was truly life-changing. This was back in 2006 when bartending in suburbia meant pouring shots, beers, and throwing a bunch of stuff into an Island Oasis machine and flicking it on. A lot has changed since then, both for bartending and myself, but what hasn't changed is the lifestyle and the ability to create everlasting bonds. The other bartenders I worked with became some of my best friends. The regulars who sat at the bar became my drinking buddies. After I moved to New York City in 2007, I would always go back to Texas and find these same people and pick up right where we left off. I guess the social aspect of everything was the most rewarding. I mean, who doesn't want to be the bartender?
Living in New York City gave me the opportunity to see what the dining culture was like in a big city. Growing up in the suburbs, I was so accustomed to chain restaurants. In the city, I saw and experienced all the great things anyone who loves restaurants and bars would want. It made me want to continue pursuing bartending as a passion and career. I saw that there was room for growth and creativity both professionally and personally.
What are some fun flavors you’re working with?
I recently got into Moroccan cuisine. A good friend of mine has his own catering company that focuses on Casablanca style food and he has asked me to come up with drinks that utilize familiar ingredients. Orange flower water, honey, mint, cinnamon, jasmine, green tea, and dates are fun to play with and cocktails that use these ingredients can complement the Casablanca dish spectrum.
What are you doing different from the norm in your beverages?
I guess it's so easy to get lost amongst all the options that exist out there. Seriously, everyone's making bitters, shrubs and syrups. Then you have a new spirit or vermouth coming out constantly and before you know it, you're sitting at someone's bar and the cocktails have way too much going on and somewhere in all of it, the classics have been lost. Therefore, I think what I do, and what we've been taught at Employees Only is to not over-complicate things. Start with the basics. Make a sour and then add your own twist to it. Start with a Manhattan and then find a way to make it yours. I also find that it's not harmful to experiment and explore. I love reading materials that talk about the molecular aspects of how food and our olfactory system work together to create the experiences we not only love, but remember for the rest of our lives. Using some of this knowledge, I've been able to make new syrups and cocktails that are a combination of understanding how, for example, strawberry, curry leaf and clove work well together. I can make a syrup out of that and then going back to the classics, make something as simple as a gin buck that's different and unique. I'm sure there are other bartenders doing this but it's what I do and it seems to work most of the time.
What’s the next hot trend in mixology?
I think more and more people are going to get into the molecular aspect of everything. Knowing what aromatic compounds exist in different ingredients and how they play well with other compounds will allow people to create cocktails that bring together a host of ingredients no one would have ever thought could work. It's getting to a point where a database will be available on-line, where bartenders and even chefs can just type in an ingredient and automatically will be shown a list of all the compounds that exist in that item and all the other potential combinations one can exploit. Science and technology will help us create new experiences and memories. But again, understanding the classics will always be important.
What’s in the mixing glass or shaker for your customers?
Nothing beats a spicy margarita with some mint and cucumber thrown in to give it a nice cooling effect. It never fails.
What are you sipping on and why?
Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit from a private bottling for Haymarket Bar in Louisville, Kentucky. Great stuff. Well curated I must say.
What are you dancing to while mixing?
Haha! Well I don't control the music, but I have to say the bosses handle it pretty well. There's a lot of disco on Mondays thanks to one of our owners, Billy. We have plenty of Michael Jackson and Queen on the playlist. But secretly, deep down inside, I'd give anything for a little Black Sabbath while I'm working. But you know, War Pigs and Ironman. You don't want to chase off your guests.
What are some quirks/quotes you are known for?
I got into this phase where I always had my eyes closed when people would take pictures of me. I'm just kidding, I still do it.
Benjamin Franklin is famous for saying "Beer is proof that God loves u and wants us to be happy." What's your beer mantra?
My beer mantra is that the person who orders a beer will probably get it before anyone else gets whatever it is they ordered. Haha! I love what I do.