January 2017 Bartender of the Month: Bob Peters
Name: Bob Peters
Establishment:The Punch Room (The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte, NC)
Previous Bartending Gigs:
- Pisces Sushi Bar and Lounge
- Soul Gastrolounge
- Alley Cat
- Thomas St Tavern
- Tutto Mundo’s
- Elizabeth Pub (where it all began)
Way too many places in between all those to list...
About the Bartender: Bob Peters is actually a Charlotte native, which makes him as rare and as special as the libations you will find behind his bar. With strong southern roots, Bob has always enjoyed the art of dining and taking care of friends. He is well known for his creative palate as well as for his ability to entertain.
Bob has won numerous awards, including The Ritz-Carlton SABRE Award for 2015 Global Bartender of the Year. In the spring of 2016 he accompanied some of the most elite chefs from Charlotte, NC, to the coveted James Beard House in New York City to present a “Taste of Charlotte” dinner to the Big Apple’s food fanatics.
When you join Bob for a cocktail, be prepared to linger and let go of the reins. In no time, you will be carried away on a journey sure to delight the senses. Check him out at The Punch Room at The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte (NC). You will be delighted in what you find and he’ll have the hooch ready.
For additional details please feel free to visit his website at http://bobpeters.net.
Why did you become a bartender?
I basically stumbled into bartending by accident, but I always thought it would be fun. I was hanging out at my favorite bar, The Elizabeth Pub, which was a total dive, when I overheard the owner talking to an employee about finding a new employee. I apologized for eavesdropping, but volunteered myself as a capable body. It was the best possible scenario for someone who had absolutely zero experience to cut their bartending teeth. Twisting off bottle caps and pouring the occasional straight shot into a shot glass with a line on it was the extent of my service requirements. I loved getting to know all the regulars and learning about booze and how the business worked. It didn’t take long for me to get hooked and turn into a "lifer."
What made you want to work at The Punch Room?
When the Punch Room opportunity came to me, it was like a dream come true. I could not believe that such an iconic, world-class company like The Ritz-Carlton would want me to run their craft cocktail lounge on the 15th floor of the Charlotte location. All the resources and all of their contacts were suddenly within my reach. I knew that the sky was the limit when I asked the general manager if it might be possible to put a garden on the roof and he responded very quickly and said casually, “Yes, we can do that.” It is such an honor to work with so many extremely talented ladies and gentlemen at such an extraordinary company.
It seems as though the Ritz-Carlton gives you a lot of creative freedom in terms of The Punch Room’s cocktail program. How did you obtain that level of trust with such an iconic hotel chain, and have your creations made it to other bars they operate?
I feel very fortunate to have creative control of The Punch Room’s cocktail program and I think that level of trust was obtained with The Ritz-Carlton before I was ever hired. I have an excellent reputation for being an extremely hard worker and someone who has always made tasty cocktails. I always do my best to push creativity while remaining inside the lines of good taste at the same time. I make sure to vet my bizarre recipes very carefully before any of my guests get to try them. If the recipe needs some tweaking, then I work on them until they are perfect. If I realize the recipe is flawed at the concept, then the whole project gets scrapped. I don’t ever want to release anything less than amazing and I am definitely my toughest critic. The Ritz-Carlton knows this about me and appreciates this fact.
What are some fun flavors with which you’re working?
I don’t want to show all my winter menu cards but one cocktail that I am really excited about is a rum cocktail using locally distilled Queen Charlotte’s Reserve Rum, lemon, tarragon, and fresh truffles. You will either have to come into The Punch Room or follow me on Instagram (@Bob_Peters) to see what else the new winter menu has in store.
What are some of the unique spirits and ingredients with which you’re playing?
My favorite ingredients are always seasonal products and locally produced booze. I am so proud of the local distillers and all they have accomplished in the past six years. All of these folks work harder than anyone else I know at their craft, and you can taste that their efforts pay off when you get a chance to try any of the amazing North Carolina spirits.
What are you doing that’s different from the norm in your beverages?
I try to do a lot of things that are outside of the norm with my cocktail program. First, I try to challenge my guests to try new flavors and to venture outside their comfort zone. Earning the trust of your guest is a huge step, but once you get that trust then you can guide them on a beautifully boozy journey that takes them places that they wouldn’t choose to go themselves.
Another thing that I do differently with my cocktail program is that I very carefully choose ingredients for my cocktails. I love to use incredibly tasty, locally distilled spirits, seasonal North Carolina produce, and the stunning organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs that grow in the roof top garden. I am super picky about what I serve to my guests.
Finally, I don’t just focus on the drink itself, but I try to facilitate a gorgeous one-of-a-kind experience for everyone that I am lucky enough to have in The Punch Room. Everything from the first sample of the Punch of the Day to seeing your cocktail meticulously being made, to hearing the history behind some of the ancient recipes, all go into making your experience unique and magical. I love all of it.
How do go about creating a new cocktail or riff on a cocktail?
When I want to do a riff on a cocktail I will start with the base spirit. I substitute it for the most opposite spirit I can possibly find. After making the cocktail with the new spirit I simply ask myself, does it play or could it be better with something else? If there are other spirits, then I do the same thing. I also find it interesting to try to create some substitutions from scratch, without alcohol. Creating flavors from scratch gives you incredible amounts of freedom to venture from the original recipe and discover one-of-a-kind flavor combinations that are yours and only yours. If you travel down this creative path, make sure to take notes as you go so that you can reproduce it if you uncover something that tastes delicious.
You’re known for your incredible cocktail presentations. Has the prevalence of social media helped to shape your presentation process or has that always been a focus of yours?
I have always been a firm believer that you drink with your eyes first, so I put a great deal of effort into making a favorable impression even before your lips meet the cocktail. Pictures for social media make you evaluate that first impression through a different set of eyes. It allows you to be honest with yourself and make critical constructive changes before your cocktail is actually served.
What do you feel is the next hot trend in mixology?
I see tequila continuing to grow and truly delight people in the next couple of years. There are a ton of people that are just not aware about how amazing tequila has gotten since they were in college. Tequila is an incredible, versatile spirit that has limitless character and soul. Tequila is super cool.
As far as what your guests are ordering, what seems to be the most popular item on your menu?
At The Punch Room we change our menu with every season, so the guest’s favorites change constantly. In the warmer months I make loads of our Pisco Sours that are topped with homemade St-Germain foam. They are refreshing, yet boozy, and to die for. However, since we are in the South, no matter what time of the year, our guests tend to order a little bourbon-heavy, but that is okay with me.
What have you been ordering when you’re out at a bar or enjoying a drink at home, and why?
I am pretty simple. If I am at a place known for cocktails I will just ask the bartender to make me whatever they are excited about at that time. My motto is, “The bartender always knows best.” On the other hand, if I am somewhere not particularly well known for their cocktails, then I am completely at home ordering a nice shot of reposado tequila neat and a PBR in a can. I’m easy and I’m always happy no matter what kind of beverage is in my hand.
What are some quirks and quotes you’re known for?
I am an obsessive cleaner. Every chance I get, I wipe down all surfaces behind my bar. I think that everything should be clean and in its home at all times, when not being used. My guests notice that fairly quickly after sitting at my bar – even for a short amount of time. Organized cleanliness is a badge of honor to me.
As far as quotes go, if I am trying to persuade someone to try something outside of their comfort zone, I will tell them that if they don’t like what I fix them for whatever reason, I will keep making them drinks until they do like it. Then I will ask them: “Is that fair?” I get mocked by friends all the time for that one, and I love it.
What role does beer play in your job as a bartender?
Most of my guests at The Punch Room order cocktails, so I don’t serve a whole lot of beer. In fact, I only have four beers total. They are all made by a Charlotte Craft Brewery called NoDa Brewery, about 10 minutes north of The Ritz-Carlton. It is outstanding, and you know I love to support local.
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