Interview: bartender Scott Beattie (Spoonbar)

Bartender Bay Area

Photo courtesy of Scott Beattie

A man who’s been at the forefront of the market-driven cocktail movement is unquestionably Scott Beattie. The San Francisco native flipped the seasonal switch in 2001, and beginning in 2005, he stepped up his game alongside chef Douglas Keane at Cyrus, which prompted him to write a book on the subject, Artisanal Cocktails: Drinks Inspired by the Seasons From the Bar at Cyrus. He left to promote the book and resurfaced last year in Healdsburg at Spoonbar. In his spare time, Beattie teams with Marco Dionysos and H. Joseph Ehrmann on H.M.S. Cocktails, a cocktail triumvirate that crafts artisanal cocktails at special events. Beattie recently took the time to discuss his background and approach over the phone.

Do you consider yourself a bartender or mixologist?

I don’t think it really matters to me. People can call it whatever they want, but bartender works just fine.

How did the opportunity come about at Spoonbar?

I was approached by the family that’s kind of the majority owner in the project. They told me what they were doing, that it was a green hotel and they wanted me to design the cocktail program for them.

How do you differentiate your bar programs at Cyrus and Spoonbar?

They said I could do anything, as long as it fell in line with what I’m known for doing, which is my seasonal approach to drinkmaking…Our drinks average about $7.50 or $8 apiece, which is pretty low considering the quality. I noticed there wasn’t a place where you could get a perfectly made Manhattan, Mai Tai or Negroni…We have 30 or 40 drinks on there, mostly classic drinks like The Last Word, Millionairess and Floridita Daiquiri. I decided what spirits would be best in there, with smaller, local producers like Hangar One and Charbay. I just tried to put the best spirit in each recipe. A lot of the drinks aren’t quite as ornate as the ones at Cyrus, but to compensate for that, we’ve bought a lot of antique glassware. We use Kold-Draft ice cubes, so our drinks are made with that ice…Cyrus was more about culinary cocktails, this is more about classic drinks.

I’m still really good friends with Doug and Nick. It was an amicable break-up. I just needed to stop and promote my book. I passed it on to Erika [Frey], who’s still running it and doing a good job, doing her own drinks as well as some from my book.

Where do things stand with your consulting work for Daniel Patterson at Bracina in Oakland?

They’ve started gutting the space next to the restaurant, so we’ll be moving ahead, hopefully, with that soon. It’s supposed to be April, but realistically could get backed up more.

How involved do you plan to be in the bar program?

I don’t have any intentions to move back down to San Francisco or Oakland. I like Healdsburg. I’m doing it with a guy named Michael Lazar, who wrote Left Coast Libations. He’ll be the bar manager there, but we’ve been working on the program together. I’ll probably work there three nights per week. It will hopefully be the best bar in Oakland, that’s what we’re shooting for.

Do you have a first cocktail memory, good or bad?

The thing that transformed me a bit was when I just moved up to St. Helena in 2001 and my dad had a Meyer lemon tree. I made a Meyer lemon drop with Meyer lemon juice, Meyer lemon vodka and sugar, and I remember it tasting more delicious than anything I had before. It led me to use better ingredients and better liquor. That set me on that path.

What was your first bar related job?

I worked at Perry’s on Union Street. That was my first restaurant job. I started washing dishes…They hired me as a bartender across the street at the Blue Light.

Did you become interested in spirits or cocktails first?

I was more interested in liquor first. The cocktail thing came later.

Was there moment when you knew you’d do this for a living?



Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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