Soon after Analogue bartender Dave Whatson arrived in Sydney to pursue a career in dance, he got behind the bar — and not just any bar. “A friend asked me to help work the bar on a party boat,” he says. “At this time I didn't know much about booze, and I wasn't too sure how I would go about serving it, but it turns out I was better at it than I thought.” That confidence landed him gigs at a variety of spots in Australia, London, and San Francisco, from Canadian-themed ski lodges and high volume nightclubs, to fine dining venues and cigar lounges. Most recently he can be found at Analogue in Greenwich Village, where he heads up the cocktail program and the jazz bar’s monthly cocktail classes (next one up: The Art of Agave on May 5). Here, the Australia native chats about the most surprising drink on the list, the two role models in his life, and the American spirits he’s into now.
BoozeMenus:How would you define "hospitality"?
Dave Whatson: Being gracious and kind.
BM: What's your behind the bar approach?
DW: I like to think of the venue as my own house, and I'm just having people over for some drinks. Those people of course are our guests, so I give them a hello as they walk through the door, offer them some water while they look over a menu and then maybe suggest some drinks to fit their mood at that time. I’m constantly checking in to make sure they are happy, cozy, comfy, and if they need anything, be it more water, some food, a chat, a laugh. It’s about giving your friends a great experience before they return home for the night.
BM: What's one of the biggest lessons that you've learned behind the bar?
DW: To never lose your cool. I’m not an angry person, most of the time I’m quite calm, so this is something I’ve observed from working with other people. When I see that something goes wrong and they have a tantrum, start slamming doors and throwing things and equipment, it creates a bad working vibe and a bad experience for the guests. The venue ends up losing out in the long run because those people aren't going to come back. Not everything goes as planned in a shift, so you work around it and move forward.
BM: What cocktail on the menu was the most surprising?
DW: I think for me it was the Analogue. It’s rum, bourbon, bitters and some other fun things in there, and it makes for a really sessionable, spirit-forward drink. But generally if I go out, I’ll be drawn to the weirdest drink on the menu. I have to see how it works and how they balance the ingredients. I also get bored very easily, so I always need to be trying something new.
BM: Who serves a role model in your life?
DW: In my day to day lifestyle I'd probably say my good mate Lucas Connolly. He is the biggest free spirit I know, and he is like a 10-year-old trapped in a 41-year-old’s body. He was my first bar trainer. He is just a very outgoing and positive person, and I really look up to that. In terms of cocktail and bar tendering, I’d say my mate Mitch Oldfield. He thinks about a drink and how it’s going to look and make you feel, along with how the drink is going to work on your palate. Nine times out of ten he will work out some crazy drink that we would be joking about, and a few days later he has it perfected. I love his drinks and his menus, they always keep me interested.
BM: What spirit are you loving right now?
DW: Going into spring and summer weather, I’m loving the American gins — the stuff from St. George in Alameda near San Francisco is amazing. They also do some rum, single malts, and an absinthe, but their gins are all different and super unique. I'm loving this other barrel aged gin called Rusty Blade — it has this great earthiness to it, but also these beautiful orange and ginger notes. A big pour of that with ice and an orange slice — that’ your summer afternoon right there.
BM: What spring ingredients are you most excited about when it comes to cocktails?
DW: I am a sucker for the old Aperol, it’s just great. I’d also like to see some fresh pressed juices. There’s nothing better than whiskey and a fresh pressed green apple.
BM: When's the last time someone ordered a drink and you had to look up its recipe?
DW: The other week actually a guest ordered at Singapore Sling, and I hadn't made one in about seven years. I vaguely knew what was in it but in terms of measurement, I had to look it up to be sure.
BM: Where can you be found post-shift, and what are you drinking?
DW: Probably at Divine bar on Broadway in Brooklyn. A $6 beer and whiskey, that will do me!
By Nicole Schnitzler
(Photos from left: Cocktail; Dave Whatson; Cocktail)