Interview: bartender-mixologist Toby Maloney
Toby Maloney has become one of the busier men in the world of cocktails and spirits. He parlayed experiences at famed Manhattan bars like Milk & Honey, Pegu Club and Flatiron Lounge into a leading role. Maloney is currently the Chief Creative Officer for Alchemy Consulting and Head Mixologist for vaunted bars in three different cities: The Violet Hour in Chicago, The Patterson House in Nashville and Bradstreet Craftshouse in Minneapolis. We recently touched base via e-mail, and Maloney better explained his background and approach.
Do you have a first cocktail memory, good or bad?
My parents were having a party, I was about 10ish, and I asked my uncle for a rum and coke, he brought me my drink and I didn’t believe that he put rum in it, so I snuck into the kitchen and added more. It was so strong as to be undrinkable. Looking back that was my first lesson in balance.
Did you become interested in spirits or cocktails first?
Cocktails. I cooked for many years before I ever got behind a bar. I was, am still am, most interested in the combination of things, what makes things taste good, and bad. Later I learned that that is called creating balance and strata. I was a spirit neophyte for way too long. Still am, truth be told. I am constantly impressed with people who have great depth of knowledge of all things distilled.
What was your first bar job?
I was a margarita slinger at a restaurant in Chicago called Blue Mesa. It was always three-four deep at the bar, blenders going non-stop, sweat, triple sec and fresh citrus juice coming together to create a sweet stickiness that would attract swarms of bees. But I loved the intense physicality matched with creativity, composure, and consistency. A lot of that came from being a cook. There is much more of a sense of combined purpose, us against them if you will, in the kitchen. You need to help your fellow cooks for the greater good. I think this come from the fact that rarely does a single cook make everything for a single table. You need every person on point to make things go smoothly. A bartender is a more solitary, self-contained job. They are more like gunslingers. At Blue Mesa it was a tiny, very busy bar, so movement needed to be minimal and well orchestrated. If you went into the reaching to stock you limes, you stocked the other bartenders limes as well. You grabbed the beers for his order as well, since you were there. No to would be a dick move.
Was there a moment you know you’d do this for a living?
I don’t think that there was a moment per se. I have been working in the industry since I was in short pants. I guess after 15-20 years I just accepted that I couldn’t do anything else. All my skill sets were geared for a meritocracy. I think they refer to it as institutionalized when talking about lifer in prison. Prisoners can’t function in the normal world after a while. All their skill sets are geared for a meritocracy as well. Only slightly different skills. If you told me that starting tomorrow I was going to have a cubicle, hell a corner office, and I was going to be expected to occupy it from 8:30-6:00 Monday through Friday, well I would be on the first plane out of JFK.
How did the your latest opportunity come about?
Most opportunities start with someone going to The Violet Hour or The Patterson House, they like what they see and ask if we can do something like it where they are.
Do you have any mentors? If so, who are they, and what did they teach you?