For many of us, the relationship with the bartender at our favorite restaurant is paramount. He or she often greets us by name, asks about our day, and pours us a welcome drink. A bartender is like a good host—introducing fellow guests, sharing the latest gossip, and making sure everyone is having a great time. Perhaps this is why—for most of us—snagging a bar seat for dinner trumps a table any day of the week. So who are the North Shore’s most dazzling bartenders? We flip sides and find out a bit more about four of our favorites; they make mean conversation and shake quite a cocktail.
Bar manager at Opus in Salem
Before I was a bartender, I was… An artist and filmmaker. I have been an artist since I was a kid, then went to MassArt and joined the film department, made a lot of things along the way. My last film My Sister, the Psychopath is screening at the Action on Film festival in California next month. The first thing I do when I’m done working for the night is…Watch some sci-fi. Right now I’m on Star Trek: The Next Generation, with an obligatory glass of wine. The bar tool I cannot live without is… A wine key; otherwise it takes forever and there’s a lot of broken glass! My favorite thing to drink is… Brennivin, an Icelandic Aquavit infused with caraway. Best experience I’ve had behind the bar was the time… My husband showed up with a baby turtle in his pocket. My favorite cocktail to make is… Anything with gin. Custom or classic, we’ve got a lot of great gins to work with and the possibilities are endless! Ingredient/brand I am most excited about these days is…Tempus Fugit [Spirits]. They re-create historic spirits and do a fine job. Their Kina L’Aero d’Or is good with anything or on its own. People would say I’m known for… Making you try something new! On the North Shore, I love to grab a bite at… Ceia in Newburyport and a drink at Barrel House—they never disappoint. When people are visiting the North Shore from out of town, I tell them they should… Spend some time enjoying the ocean; our beaches are some of the best. Three things I could not live without are… My husband. The ocean. The hope of someday having a farm with goats. The song that I love bartending to… Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight” is the obvious choice, featured on our occasional “Phil it up Phridays” (at Opus). Best part of my job is… The people I work with. We spend a LOT of time together, and it is always awesome!
Bartender at The Poynt in Newburyport.
Before I was a bartender, I was… a barback frothing at the bit to be a bartender. The first thing I do when I’m done working for the night is… Have an ice cold Miller High Life…and a Jameson if it was a tough night. The bar tool I cannot live without is… A Yarai mixing glass; it’s such a classy way to stir cocktails for my guests. Anyone who loves and cherishes a great Negroni or Manhattan appreciates the Yarai. Something most people don’t know about me is… I almost became a lingerie salesman. (I would have been good.) Best experience I’ve had behind the bar was the time… The NHL draft was in Boston. I was working at a club called The Rack in the very late ’90s, and I met so many of my hockey idols and saw them for who they were—crazy blue collar athletes who were incredibly humble, extremely down to earth, and respectful. My favorite cocktail to make is… Classic Sidecar, Negroni, or a Whiskey Sour Flip. A must-read book on imbibing is… The Drunken Botanist or The PDT Cocktail Book: The Complete Bartender’s Guide from the Celebrated Speakeasy. When I’m not bartending, you’ll find me… Catching up on the “Honey To-Do List” (note: this is not a hobby), golfing, hanging out with my beautiful wife, Nico, and the best pup in the world, Bergy. If I could get a cocktail anywhere in the world, it would be … At PDT in the East Village (NYC) or at the Baldwin Bar in Woburn. Ingredient/brand I am most excited about these days is… I’m very enamored by shrubs and gastriques as a way of introducing acid into a cocktail without having to use fruit (citric acid). I love rum and rum cocktails beyond the classic Tiki style. On this note, I’ve worked closely with Matt Perry at Turkey Shore Distilleries in Ipswich and have made Falernum and Orgeat with some of his raw overproofed rum. Three things I could not live without are… My wife, not for a second. My personality and unique sense of humor. My friends and peers that have believed in me more than I have, even when things were tough; no one can go through life without a strong support system.
Lead bartender at The Bancroft in Burlington
Before I was a bartender I was…Chasing the 9-to-5 workweek and feeling a bit out of step with it. The first thing I do when I’m done working for the night is… Congratulate the team on another job well done. And find something to eat. Maybe find something to eat first. The bar tool I cannot live without is… The Boston shaker! I couldn’t imagine being behind a bar without it, and I love the sound of ice and spirits crashing together between the tin and mixing glass to make a perfectly chilled cocktail. Something most people don’t know about me is… I own a vintage Geiger counter that I’m actually too terrified to get a battery for and try out. Best experience I’ve had behind the bar was the time… Really, any time I can make a real connection with a guest and they continue to come back to visit me again and again. Sometimes just taking that extra few minutes to ask how someone’s day was can yield the most incredible stories. A must-read book on imbibing is… To Have and Have Another; A Hemingway Cocktail Companion by Philip Green. When I’m not bartending, you’ll find me… Cooking. And trying to read while cooking. People would say I’m known for… I’d like to think my hospitality and ability to make people feel that they are a guest not only at my bar but also at my home. On the North Shore, I love to grab a bite at… The Agawam Diner in Rowley. Nothing beats a generous slice of their homemade banana cream pie and a piping hot cuppa coffee. For cocktails, I always recommend… Sichuan Garden in Woburn, and if you’re adventurous enough, try the spicy oxtail and tripe salad. I seriously find myself craving that dish. When people are visiting the North Shore from out of town, I tell them they should… If they have the time on a Sunday morning, they should head out to the Todd Farm Flea Market. A couple hundred vendors set up their wares and you can score all sorts of fun/useful/not-so-useful things.
Three things I could not live without are… Coffee. Books. A daily moisturizer.
Sean Patrick Maher
Bar manager and co-owner of Barrel House American Bar in Beverly
Before I was a bartender, I was… I was a line cook for over five years before I moved to the front of the house, all while being a (sometimes) college student. The first thing I do when I’m done working for the night is… Crank the A/C, pour a beer, and put on some old-school rap or heavy metal. My favorite thing to drink is… I could live on Barolo and Barbaresco. Best experience I’ve had behind the bar was the time… I had a regular who used to test my knowledge every time he was in. He would scan the back bar for obscure bottles and quiz me on them, and the tip was particularly outstanding if I knew my stuff. I loved the challenge and knowledge I gained by having to familiarize myself with everything behind me to be able to explain simply and clearly to guests. A must-read book on imbibing is… Toss-up between Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology and David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. When I’m not bartending, you’ll find me… I am a huge Salem history and architecture buff. I have a large collection of books, prints, images, maps, and other Salem-related stuff. I particularly love finding images or prints of houses and buildings that are no longer there. If I could get a cocktail anywhere in the world, it would be… I’d love to belly up at the Artesian in the Langham Hotel in London. On the North Shore, I love to grab a bite at… I love the tasty and elegant food at Firenze Trattoria in Salem. For cocktails I hit up my neighborhood bar friends over at Opus. I have to add the pleasure of listening to Charlie Gaeta from the Blue Ox, in Lynn, talk about wine and sherry. Three things I could not live without are… My beautiful wife, Karla, my dogs Saffy and Ivy, and traveling to fantastic places in Europe and having good food and wine. The song that I love bartending to… The Allman Brothers Band performing the (extended) live version of “Stormy Monday” from the Fillmore concerts. Best part of my job is… Being out someplace or traveling and hearing other people say wonderful things about Barrel House American Bar.