introducing nightclub & bar’s 2012 bartender of the year
On the West Coast, it’s not often you see a cowboy behind the bar. But Nightclub & Bar's 2012 Bartender of the Year Russell Davis, a born-and-bred Texan, likes to stay true to his roots — and he’s got the hat and boots to prove it.
“I knew how to drive a tractor before I knew how to drive a car,” Davis laughs.
Now far removed from the small-town peach farm he grew up on, Davis currently is working the stick at San Francisco’s Rickhouse. Previously the bar manager at Peche in Austin, Texas, and president of the Austin Chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild (USBG), Davis has a stellar resume after spending almost a decade in the bar business. Most recently, Davis:
• Was Named Nightclub & Bar’s October 2011 Bartender of the Month.
• Swept up the People's Choice/Best of the Fest Award for San Francisco Magazine's Eco Cocktail Competition at 2011 SF Bay Fall Fest.
• Took second place (and top human bartender honors) at Lush Life Production’s Humans vs. Robots Bartender Competition during 2011 Portland Cocktail Week.
• Represented Rickhouse at Gran Marnier’s 2010 Bar Room Brawl in New Orleans.
• Won first place at the 2010 Germain-Robin/Craft Distiller’s Cocktail Competition in San Francisco.
With several new projects on the horizon, Davis doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. Currently, Davis is consulting on a non-alcohol drinks menu for San Francisco’s The Ice Cream Bar. However, alcohol-free doesn’t mean “simple.”
“Not working with alcohol has been the most challenging part of my career,” he says.
Davis is using a vast array of housemade tinctures, syrups and extracts, making an almost infinite number of flavor combinations to create classic Prohibition-era fountain drinks. Let’s be clear: We’re not talking about your typical root-beer float, folks. Davis’ New Orleans Hangover is a chicory coffee float featuring chicory coffee syrup, soda, golden-eagle tincture and sweet-cream ice cream; meanwhile, the Passion Project is a house-blend chai-creamed soda-lactart with tobacco aromatic and house-blended chai tea tincture, turbinate fountain syrup, cream, lactart and soda.
It may sound like Davis is putting a great deal of time and energy into the soda shop, but he isn’t even fazed.
“I’ve always been big about creating experiences,” he says. “I’ve never looked just at the cocktail or the recipe — I focus on the experience.”
That said, Davis has no intentions of leaving his shaker behind. Davis, St. George Spirits Distiller Dave Smith and Darren Crawford of San Francisco’s Bourbon & Branch presently are working on the top-secret Manhattan Project, a collaboration that’s creating a locally produced barrel-rested bourbon. Think you’ve seen this before? Think again: In a previous life, the barrels aged Manhattan cocktails. The trio is taking aged spirits and barrel-aged cocktails to the next logical level: cocktail-aged spirits.
No matter what hat he’s wearing or job he’s tackling — mixologist, teacher, entrepreneur or perhaps even mad scientist — Davis’ passion lies not only in perfecting the various techniques used in his innovative and creative signature cocktails, but also in modeling the art of being a true barman.
“I still remain a bartender,” he says. “We are definitely artists, but it is also our job to educate and inspire.”
***Photos courtesy of Liza Gershman.***