A quarter-century ago, thanks largely to the success of the Tom Cruise movie Cocktail, tossing bottles and juggling shakers were all the rage behind bars across the nation. Even if bartenders weren't on coke, they often seemed to be, and their acrobatics produced large volumes of strong, sweet nothings for audiences that tipped as they might a stripper.
Thankfully, the scene has calmed. Today's up-and-comers behind higher-end bars tend to be bookish and thoughtful, mining the past to mix carefully made concoctions that look and taste like they're worth what they cost. Promoting and sustaining this crafty style of hoochmanship locally is the Baltimore Bartenders Guild (BBG), the likes of which, had Brendan Dorr of B&O American Brasserie not founded it a few years back, was inevitable given the trend toward smart, carefully contemplated cocktails.
An early BBG member, Doug Atwell, says the group came to together in 2011 "as a handful of professional career bartenders trying to expand and enrich the drinking culture of Charm City," and that it's "modeled after and inspired by like-minded bar guilds from other cities."
Atwell, who mixes at Rye in Fells Point, says the BBG "meets monthly to plan events for charity and educational trips for our members, discuss industry trends, and sample new spirits coming to market." At the first meeting he attended in late 2011, there were only about six people. At last month's meeting, there were 26.
Membership-the tally on BBG's website comes to about 40-"is open to anyone actively tending bar in or around Baltimore," Atwell explains, adding that "it's really wonderful to see our peers taking the initiative and making bartending a respectable and thoughtful career again."
Dorr and BBG treasurer Jon Blair, who wets whistles at Rye and Bad Decisions-Atwell describes them as "two bartenders very well versed in cocktail history"-collaborate on a side project, the Forgotten Cocktail Club, in which "every few months they select a somewhat secret location, create a menu from scratch, and run a pop-up bar for a few hours on a Friday night," explains Atwell. To stay abreast, follow the project's Facebook page.
The BBG's annual fundraiser, Rye's Up Against Cystic Fibrosis, is on Sunday, Feb. 23, at B&O. Dorr explains that this year's event will feature about 15 seasoned Baltimore bartenders competing for an undisclosed prize for mixing the best rye cocktails, as judged by a handful of visiting industry leaders. Food from some of Baltimore's best restaurants will be served, along with local wines and a rye beer from Union Craft Brewing. Tickets cost $65, and are available through MissionTix.