Brad Bolt grew up in the western Chicago suburbs of Darien and Naperville and got started behind the bar at La Sorella di Francesca, an Italian restaurant that is part of the Mia Francesca group. The experience proved to be so influential that when he helped Matt Eisler and Kevin Heisner open Bar DeVille, Bolt enlisted fellow Francesca bartenders to join him, and as a testament to Bar DeVille (and Bolt), they still remain on staff. He continues to be the General Manager of Bar DeVille in the city’s West Town. We recently caught up with Bolt via e-mail, where he further explained his background and approach.
Do you have a first cocktail memory, good or bad?
The first cocktail I can remember having was some sort of huge, frozen slush drink in Mexico at the age of about 18. It was overly sweet, overly strong and knocked me on my ass. Needless to say, I am drinking far better cocktails these days.
Did you become interested in spirits or cocktails first?
I became interested in spirits first as I worked and trained with whiskey lovers at my first bartending gig. The first bourbon they put in front of me was Maker’s Mark and I fell in love with it. We were all big Maker’s drinkers back then.
Was there a moment you know you’d do this for a living?
The moment occurred when I was in my junior year of college. I was working and making good money in restaurants while attending college for photography. I realized I enjoyed bartending more than I did taking photos and that a bar or restaurant is a work of art itself. The interior design, music, smells and tastes all come together to form something that, when executed properly, is really beautiful.
How did the Bar DeVille opportunity come about?
In addition to managing a bar at a restaurant, I started bartending at a high volume lounge/club. I sat down with the owner and asked for advice in regards to buying a bar. He told me that we should talk more about what I wanted to do. Several months later he found a space that was for sale and I partnered with him and the designer to open the bar.
Do you have any mentors? If so, who are they, and what did they teach you?
Terry Alexander owned all of the restaurants I ever worked in early in my career and I had the good fortune of getting to work closely with him by managing the bar at del Toro. He taught me how to manage inventory and what it means to work hard. He is one of the hardest working restaurateurs I know.
Matt Eisler, one of the owners of Bar DeVille, has been my mentor ever since I started working with him about four and a half years ago. He is a wealth of knowledge regarding every facet of the bar business and I am constantly learning from him. He’s an incredibly hard worker and a straight shooter. His honesty and straight up delivery make it so easy to learn from him.
Who are some other bartenders that you really admire, and how come?
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