“The culture of drink endures because it offers so many rewards… above all the elusive promise of friendship and love.”
– Pete Hamill, from the documentary Hey Bartender
Yeah, think about that. You’re at your favorite bar, which is your favorite bar because they know what you like, or are clever enough to play to your tastes, or because they give you that little extra pour, or because they slyly started that conversation with you and that cute girl two seats away – but wait. Who’s they?
It’s bartenders, that’s who. And in this craft-cocktail renaissance that has demanded even higher levels of professionalism from those fine gents and damsels behind the counter, they are your tour guides.
Now comes a 2013 documentary that marks their role in the ongoing cocktail revival. Hey Bartender will screen at 7 p.m. Monday at the Highland Park Village Theater. Written and directed by Douglas Tirola, the film launched in New York City and Los Angeles earlier this year and follows the ups and downs of two bartenders: Steve Schneider, a retired U.S. Marine who hopes to tend bar at New York City speakeasy Employees Only; and Steve Carpentieri, owner of Dunville’s, a struggling pints-n-shots corner bar in small-town coastal Connecticut.
Employees Only, of course, is where Texas’ own Jason Kosmas earned his juice as one of the pioneering bar’s co-owners before he relocated to Dallas. (It’s also a bar Esquire’s David Wondrich calls “the greatest date bar in the world.”) Kosmas, who now co-owns The 86 Co. spirits venture, has since moved to Austin but had helped convince 4th Row Films to offer the screening here.
The events in Hey Bartender take place about the time Kosmas came to Texas – one reason, he says, he’s not more prominently featured in the film. On the other hand, it gave him the chance to see Dallas cocktail culture go from tottering baby deer to the swaggering buck it is today. (And of course Kosmas had much to do with that, though he doesn’t say so.)
In that sense, getting 4th Row Films to screen the film here was a way to thank his local bartending and alcohol industry community for eschewing the standard vodka-and-Red-Bull approach to help to bring the scene to where it is now.
The film features contributions from Dale DeGroff, widely acknowledged as man behind the revival; Charlotte Voisey, representative for family-owned distillery William Grant and Sons, which has partnered with the film; and prominent New York bar owners and drink makers Jim Meehan, Audrey Saunders and Sasha Petraske.
The film features a black-and-white photo of a youthful, less hirsute Kosmas in his mid-20s, when he met fellow Employees Only co-owner Dushan Zaric. Both were tending bar at Pravda, Dale DeGroff’s first venture outside the famed Rainbow Room. “We were kids,” he says.
Tickets to the film are $11.95, but seats are very limited. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to call the theater beforehand to confirm availability. Or try buying tickets here. Kosmas, for one, will be returning to Dallas for the occasion.
“I’m really excited,” he says. “It’ll be great to come back home.”
Because sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.
HIGHLAND PARK VILLAGE THEATER, 32 Highland Park Village. 214-443-0222.