Christian Siglin took a five-year break from bartending, but when he stepped back behind the stick, he returned with a vengeance. He received training from two of New York’s best drinksmiths – Sam Ross and Phil Ward – and now works as lead bartender at Craft & Commerce. We recently met during my second visit to the eclectic downtown San Diego establishment, and subsequently spoke over the phone, where Siglin better explained his background and approach.
How did the Craft & Commerce opportunity come about?
I was working at Noble Experiment. We’re sister restaurants and they were going to open Craft & Commerce. I was learning and training at Noble with the understanding that I would be transferring over to run the bar program once we got established.
Who was the training with?
Sam Ross from Milk & Honey and Little Branch, and for Craft & Commerce, we brought out Phil Ward, who started at Iron Horse, moved on to Pegu Club, opened up Death & Co. and now is one of the owners of Mayahuel, so I kind of learned from two really different camps, but two influential programs.
Would you consider either of them mentors?
Both of them have definitely been mentors to me. Sam Ross has been very influential, he’s done a lot of continued training with us. They both showed me a lot of different styles of cocktails and opened my eyes to a lot of good things going on in New York, which I consider at the forefront of what’s going on.
What’s your very first cocktail memory?
Obviously, in college, having gin and tonics and bad drinks, but probably four or five years ago, I went up to Bourbon & Branch in San Francisco, not knowing much about cocktails. I don’t remember what I had, but I just remember it had absinthe in it, and it got me excited about what else was out there. One of my first drinks at Noble, it was an Improved Whiskey Cocktail – rye whiskey, maraschino liqueur, absinthe and Peychaud bitters – it was one of the strongest, most interesting drinks out there, and really opened my eyes to what cocktails are and what they could be.
Did you become interested in cocktails or spirits first?
I think it was a little bit of both. It was looking at spirits my first time at Noble, and I was bartending before that, looking at the bottles at the back bar, and seeing the cocktails coming out with all these ingredients, it was a little bit of sensory overload. I became interested in both, how do I work with these spirits, how do you make cocktails like this and how do you get your palate to a point where you can distinguish what’s what and what works best with each other?
What was your first bar job?
I was working at the Hyatt Regency in La Jolla. They had a nightclub there. I started out as a barback, moved up to a bartender. It was very high volume, so I learned how to be very efficient behind the bar, did that for about seven years, got out of bartending for about five, got back into it a year and a half, two years ago. It took off from there, and I just really got into the whole cocktail programs.
What are a couple tips that you would give other bartenders to endear yourself to customers?
Just kind of understand that the customers are the ones that pay our bills, and try to put yourself in their shoes. What we’re doing is a little more advanced than the average person, but be respectful and understand we don’t know everything, and don’t expect them to. They’re the ones that let us do what we do, because we’re in the customer service industry.
What do you look for when you’re hiring somebody to work behind your bar?