Meet David Burnette, your barman at South on Main. David came to us via the Capital Hotel Bar. He takes pride in his craft and has recently been chosen to attend Portland's Cocktail Week. We recently sat down with Dave to ask him about Portland's Cocktail Week and how he got into the business of the bar:
Tell us about Portland's Cockail Week.
In a few short days I will be leaving the comfort of the South to take advantage of a great opportunity to explore a city with a fantastic cocktail scene. Portland Cocktail Week, held October 20th through the 24th, will attract many of the world's most talented bartenders, spirits makers, and brand ambassadors to the same place all at once. The focus this year is on education, and I will specifically be studying aspects of how the bar at South on Main is operating and how to make it function better. At the same time, I will be spending time with many old friends from other events, such as Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, and reconnecting with bartenders I've worked with in the past in other markets, along with some other Little Rock bartenders.
Upon returning home I should be reinvigorated with new ideas both creatively and organizationally. I'm extremely excited.
What was the first cocktail you ever tried?
I cringe to think about my first attempts at cocktail making. I grew up in a dry county, and went to college in one as well. Good cocktails weren't something we had at our disposal. I remember making Long Island Iced Teas out of the cheapest possible booze for a bunch of people at my fraternity house one night. We all got very ill. The first good cocktail I had was a Mai Tai at a pool party. Someone brought a recipe and good ingredients and I was in charge of making them. They were tasty, and I was hooked on mixing.
How did you get into bartending?
In 2002 I moved to Nashville and immediately got a job at The Merchants downtown. It was a neat old hotel that had been converted into a restaurant. I had very little liquor knowledge at the time, but was fascinated by the ornate copper-top bar in the center of the first floor. The bartender when I started there was an older gentleman named Danny who was somewhat of a local legend in Nashville for his flair bartending and charming personality. He immediately recognized that I was interested and started giving me pointers. Although I'm not a flair bartender, he definitely had a huge influence on getting me started. A few months later the restaurant changed management, and the new GM and the majority of the current bar staff failed to see eye-to-eye, so a position opened up, and I was thrown into it with a cocktail book in hand.
What do you love about the South?
I have lived in the South for my entire life. It is my home. I love the warmth of the people. I love the hidden culture you find deep down dirt roads. I love the hospitality still apparent in Southern cities. I love the music, the food, and the art here. I love SEC football rivalries and seersucker suits at racetracks. I love that Southerners love whiskey. I'm not so naive to think the South doesn't have it's problems, but I have a very hard time imagining living anywhere else.
Currently, what's your favorite cocktail?
My all favorite is the Sazerac. Very few cocktails are so Southern or so genuine as this New Orleans classic.
I'm also a huge fan of cocktails with a more bitter edge. You'll often find me drinking a Negroni (gin, Campari, Sweet Vermouth) or it's whiskey based counterpart, the Boulevardier. Right now I'm also hung up on our new original cocktail, "The Matterhorn" (Fernet Branca, Zirbenz stone pine liqueur, Zucca Amaro). It's not for everyone, though.
What do you think is going to be trending in the world of cocktails in 2014?
I think in bigger markets one will find more cocktails being batched in larger formats and put on tap or bottle. Bartenders are constantly trying to speed up the drink making process in order to focus more on time with the guests. I think a focus on hospitality has been trending and will continue to do so, which is a wonderful thing. I think there has to be a balance between finely crafting cocktails and not being snotty about it.
I think locally more focus will be put on the quality of ice. I also think local bartenders will begin using some of the great new spirits available in this market, which will help elevate the craft.
I think we will also see an influx of new faces behind bars that really care about making great drinks. This aspect really excites me.