Jackson Cannon is a bartender Hemingway would admire. He’s passionate about taking care of his guests and making the finest drinks possible night after night. For the former musician, working the stick is more of a lifestyle than a job.
“One of the things I enjoyed most about touring was making cocktails after hours for fun with the tenders,” Cannon says. “Eventually it got to the point where I wanted more to be running the bar, from setting it up, doing the service and then break it down. So I got out of music and ventured behind the bar full time. I found out quickly that I love the life.”
At most any time day or night, you’re bound to find Cannon hovering about the bar at Eastern Standard in Boston’s Kenmore Square. He describes the popular eatery as offering a mix of craft cocktails, grower wines and artisan beer, plus a bill of fare that includes chicken cordon blue, traditional salad niçoise and a killer burger. It’s all presented with a “yes” attitude and great tunes on the stereo.
Cannon is genuinely humbled by the professional acknowledgement and attributes any success he may enjoy behind the bar to a deep abiding respect for his craft. That said, he bridles somewhat at being described as a master mixologist.
“Mixology is one of a number of disciplines required to be an accomplished bartender, but it’s not the end-all. Indeed, being outstanding at guest service and hospitality are disciplines as valuable to the house — if not more so — than being a great mixologist. As far as I’m concerned, I’d say I’m a bartender who’s pretty secure in my mixology at this point,” he says.
Better to leave the titles to those who need them.
In fact, Cannon has advanced well beyond working solely as a bartender, or a mixologist for that matter. He oversees the bar operations at both Eastern Standard and its sister restaurant, Island Creek Oyster Bar, which opened next door in October 2010. There, his beverage program features seasonal cocktails made with fresh produce and herbs, small-batch organic spirits and bitters made in-house.
The depth of his immersion into the art and science of bartending is evident when he talks about how to engage guests who get stuck on what to order. It’s like listening to a professional quarterback detail how he approaches certain game situations.
“I occasionally like to ask people if they enjoy dirty vodka martinis. If they say yes, then I take them in a slightly different direction, but along the same lines. I’d present them with a gin cocktail prepared with bitters and a healthy dose of vermouth, like a Martinez or an Astor. It works well so much of the time because people who order dirty martinis crave flavor. Satisfy their cravings, and you’ve made friends for life.”
Get bartenders out socially, and soon the discussion will turn to the lame things bar guests do. When asked if he could snap his fingers and stop people from doing one thing at the bar, what would it be, Cannon immediately took the hospitable high road.
“Am I supposed to say I don't like split checks or guests who leave oyster shells on their bread plates instead of on the serving plate where they belong? Or maybe mention guests who keep their change in front of them after cash transactions or order Mojitos in New England during the winter… well, you've got the wrong guy. I don't care about any of that.”
Cannon was a most deserving recipient of Nightclub & Bar’s 2011 Bartender of the Year Award. As evidence, here’s how he views his chosen profession. “Bartending is essentially a metaphysical pursuit. The more you embrace guests’ needs and treat them with compassion, the better the bartender you’ll be.”
Honestly, who wouldn’t want a guy like him working at their bar?