A chat with Steve Schneider of “Hey Bartender”

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Celebrity chefs are old news. Even so, the idea of a celebrity bartender will strike many people as odd, even if you use the increasingly popular term “mixologist.” Nevertheless, celebrity bartenders are well on their way.

29-year-old Steve Schneider isn’t remotely a household name, but that can change. He is clearly one of the world’s best known mixologists, with more than a little rock star flair. He also pretty much walks away with the new documentary, “Hey Bartender,” which opened in New York recently and began a slow nationwide roll-out in Southern California, Seattle, Denver, Columbus and elsewhere this past Friday.

Directed by Douglas Tirola (“All In: The Poker Movie”), the film is a charming, rough around the edges, information-rich treat for anyone who’s interested in the idea that cocktails might be more than a matter of pouring booze into a cup. Such famed cocktail mavens as Dale DeGroff and my personal favorite, David Wondrich, are featured, as are many of the nation’s best bartenders. Yet it’s Schneider who dominates the film with his journey from downtrodden former Marine – his career was cut short by a severely traumatic training accident – to the multiple-prize winning principal bartender of New York’s supremely acclaimed Employees Only bar.

It’s a bit much to call Schneider the Bruce Springsteen of bartenders, but his salt-of-the-earth, bridge-and-tunnel mixture of sincere pride and humility feels very familiar, and he does not lack for showmanship – he even sports a hammer that might remind some of a certain Norse thunder god. “Hey Bartender” captures the man’s skill, bravado, and iron-clad work ethic, but it doesn’t quite capture the generosity or enthusiasm that I encountered when I got to talk to him via coast-to-coast telephony not long ago.

Bullz-Eye: Congratulations. Everything seems to be going right. Aside from the movie, I understand you’ve won another contest.

Steve Schneider: Yeah, I just won a competition a couple of weeks ago in Chicago with Anthony Bourdain. It was fun. Anytime you get a chance to go to Chicago, it’s fun.

BE: By the way, I’m not sure. Exactly where are you from, originally?

SS: I was born in Bergen County, in Jersey.

BE: So you’re basically a Tri-State area boy.

SS: Yes, I am.

BE: Boy, I have so much to ask and I’m not sure what to start with.

SS: Let it ride, you know. Whatever you need.

BE: Okay, cool. It’s actually to the credit of the film, they don’t make a big deal about your hammer, but I think people want to know about the hammer anyways.

SS: It’s more of a symbol than it is a tool. I mean, it’s a great tool to use. It’s used to crush ice. We have a machine to do it. It’s good for a home bartender or a bar that’s a little slower. You can afford to put ice in a canvas bag and crush it and make juleps or swizzles or any other types of drink that require crushed ice to make it really cold.

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