Douglas Derrick is an Arizona native who earned a degree in hotel and restaurant management from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and moved to Portland to find further challenges. It also helped his decision that Oregon’s a hotbed for fly-fishing. On April 22, I met Derrick at Nostrana, where he’s worked as the bar manager since 2009, and he shared spirited insights that hinted at why he’s been successful.
What brought you to Portland?
Food and beverage, and fish. I was in Flagstaff, Arizona, and I had just graduated from hotel and restaurant management school. I started in the business when I was 15. My uncle is the largest wine seller in Tucson, at a prestigious restaurant. I’ve been in the path of food and beverage my whole life. I started washing dishes when I was 15. After graduating from college in Flagstaff, I got the most premiere job, and I was very fortunate to land. I was miserable. I was not happy with the hours and the transition out of college. I was looking for more and I was looking into wineries. I was looking to study wine for a long time. I’m a fly fisherman and fly fishing and Arizona are not a great combination. It’s at least a two and a half hour drive to get anywhere. So I looked at the map and said, “Where can I find food and beverage that’s premiere in the country,” but also still have an escape to the outdoors that I need? Portland was an easy answer, and I’ve been so happy with it ever since. I’ve been able to get myself into the brewery culture, the winery culture and the distilleries around here. And then I’m very active in the bartending community, so the combination of that just gives me endless knowledge at my fingertips from experienced people. It’s really great.
At what point did you know that you would work with cocktails and spirits for a living?
When I started at Nostrana, when I started here three years ago, was when it was my a-ha moment. I’d been studying this the whole time and this is the finest form of it. Scratch is the only way about it from here on out. My focus before was a lot on leadership, was a lot on owning my own places, a lot on how to run a staff, how to GM a restaurant. And I had bartended a lot along the way, and I had always loved bartending, because I love people. And if you love people, and people want to be around you, you can be a great bartender. You can know all the recipes and have everything memorized, but if you don’t like people, and people don’t like you, you’re never going to be a good bartender. That’s where I really loved it. I transitioned out, and when I came back here, stepping down from running a restaurant before, it was about the second day that I said, “This is what I want to do.” I wanted to be behind the bar the whole time. I wanted to create flavors, like a chef would, behind the bar. Cathy Whims gave me the ability to do that.
So this is your first bar job, at Nostrana?
No, this is my first scratch bar job. This was my first one where we juiced lemon and lime juice every day. I bartended for three years before I started here, three solid years, but I also was running restaurants where I would get behind the bar commonly. Getting behind the bar was comfortable to me. I did a lot of banquet bartending. I made a lot of Grey Goose Cosmos in fancy Arizona restaurants.
How did the opportunity came about here at Nostrana?
I was working with a restaurant consultant, who was hired by Cathy, and when I became available – I’d left that last job – the restaurant consultant connected me with Cathy and we worked out a deal. I stepped down. I was running a restaurant. It wasn’t nearly this size and it wasn’t nearly this quality, but I was General Managing a restaurant, with a restaurant consultant helping me. I loved it. I loved leading a staff and making them better by leading them, to make a better product, but it wasn’t hard to convince me to go back behind the bar either. I still have the General Manager qualities. I get to run the bar staff, hire, fire, discipline, all of that, behind the bar, so I still have the learning curve of the GM, but I also get to bartend. I get to be with the guests. I get to create flavors.
And you get to eat a lot of pizza?
I get to eat tons of cold pizza. Rarely hot pizza, but I eat a lot of cold pizza.
What would you like people to know you for as a bartender?