For the Love of the Craft
Steve Schneider is on quite a ride. From his military service, to bar apprentice, bartender to principal bartender at one of the most iconic/influential bars in the world, Employees Only in NYC. Never one to rest on his laurels, he’s on a constant quest to better himself and his craft. With his own brand of “no-holds barred” barroom enlightenment, Steve is now taking his show on the road to spread his impassioned message about guest service and the elevation of good times. When he is not traveling or behind the bar, Steve can be found live on the internet with his podcast, The Steve Schneider Show. I caught up with him one afternoon and we discussed working flair, Aussie banter, and bartending in the third dimension…
You were just in Australia. What were you doing there and how did you like it?
I was judging the Bacardi Legacy cocktail competition. It was the country’s semi-finals. It was awesome. We whittled it down from 15 to 3 and then they’ll have final a showdown in February in San Francisco.
How’s the Australian team as far as cocktails?
They’re the best, man; I love them. They’ve got great humor, they’ve got great chat and they’re just really good at what they’ve been doing. They’re among the elite. For me, in the cocktail world there’s Japan, America, London and then there’s Australia. I think they’re all just top tier countries.
You have an informative and successful podcast. What’s the main message you like to spread?
When it comes to the broadcast, I just do that for my own good to keep track of what I’m doing. I’ve been lucky enough to have 40,000 people listen in; but if nobody listens, it’s nice therapy for me and it helps me communicate behind the bar and in giving presentations. With my message, if I can help somebody by talking about what I do every day, I’m super humbled by that to say the least, but it’s very fulfilling to give back.
At EO you’ve employed a version of “working flair” for some time. What are the benefits of performing flair?
If they’re here to watch me, I’m going to give them something to look at. It’s a bunch of different skill sets that I try to master because I want to be good at my job. And if I can provide a little bit of spark, a little bit of something that they may not have seen before or something they’re not used to whether it be a great cocktail, whether it be a simple tin spin, flat back toss, a shake, a stir, a throw, a flame zest or just simply popping open a beer and taking their money and moving onto the next. Whatever it is I’m going to be able to do it. I learned how to make spheres out of olives, and I learned how to do all the molecular stuff too. It’s all part of the same vein.
How has flair helped you behind the bar?
Yeah man, it helps me with all my coordination and my ability to just maneuver bottles and maneuver tins and be able to look like they’re all an extension of my body. All my tools are an extension of my body and flare helps me do that. It helps me with my coordination. That’s why I do it. I’ve got so much respect for flair bartenders; it’s hard work bro. Cocktails? It took me 10 seconds to lean to make a negroni. It took me weeks and weeks or months to learn how to flip strip bottles.
Have you had any negative reaction from the “cocktail nerds” that you are doing flair?
Every time I post something about flair like a cool video—whether it be exhibition or working—there’s always some jerk that comments, “Well can he make a good drink?” The biggest mistake a bartender can make is think that their style of bartending is the one and only way. There’s many different bars out there. I’ve worked from clubs to fine dining to upscale cafes to cocktail joints. I’m working it all and the more you do this the more you just feel a respect for other people. I do get backlash from cocktail nerds but I don’t care. Once again, I care about what I do and if I want to learn how to do some working flair that’s going to help me out and create my own style, then I don’t give a shit what anybody else says.
In your mentor Dushan Zaric’s book, Speakeasy it says that a bartender should be “one part mixologist, one part rock star and one part sage.” Would you agree that flair is a natural progression of a “rock-star” bartender?
I call it three dimensional bartending. Mastering all. Even the cocktails that we make have a beginning, a middle and end, touch your tongue at all different sides. And with the bartender, sage, mixologist, rock star. The sage is the team player and very professional. To him every shift has an end, and he is the positive guy who will work well with the team and knows the business. And then there’s the mixologist, the guy who knows his cocktails and knows his recipes and is basically a walking encyclopedia of techniques and spirits and all this stuff. It’s knowing how to make a bunch of different drinks for people. And then of course the rock star. The guy who likes to maintain the party and the showmanship. Thinking outside the glass, giving other people something to see, something to look at, something to leave their bar and they’re like, “Man that place is awesome and I have no idea why.”