For the Love of the Craft
Keith Baker is a pistol! Out on the frontier of Fremont with his frontier facial hair, selling frontier whiskey and mixing stellar cocktails. His superb attitude and supreme work ethic transfers into everything he does. He has made a name for himself working up and down the Strip and has now found a home where the buffalo roam, East Fremont, where he is champion for the Downtown movement. Most importantly, this man has a love for the craft and fervor for all things fermented, that comes across to everyone he meets. I sat down with him one Oak & Ivy night and talked about the USBG, brain chemistry and his favorite thing on earth.
You are the bar manager at Oak & Ivy where you arguably have one of the better bar crews in town. What is your secret to building a team?
The most important thing is developing trust. Not only about money but we have to trust that everyone behind this bar is good enough and has the same drive. Day shift or night shift, we all share. We had no idea if it was going to work but I think that it does and we are trying to do something different. Everyone on the team has to believe that we all belong and that there is a mutual respect.
What’s your favorite thing about working at Oak & Ivy?
Creative freedom: Our company says, make some money and do what you want. We trust you and know that you know what you are doing. As long as you are making money, we are all good. It’s a small bar so we can do whatever we want to do. Scott Ditche
This might be a tough one but what is your favorite cocktail?
My favorite cocktail is the Aviation. And, the reason I say that so easily and quickly is because before the Aviation, I didn’t like gin. When you get your first gin cocktail, and you go “Oh, it doesn’t have to be a Juniper Bomb,” it just changes your brain chemistry in a certain way ... And so ... The first time I ever had an Aviation, at that point gin became my favorite white spirit. I’ll even drink it neat, no ice ... just dry. It’s gin. I love it. It’s my favorite thing on earth.
You are very active in our Las Vegas chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild. What do you like about the guild in general?
Two things—we are now the largest chapter in the country and even so it is a small percentage of all the barmen in the city, but I like the sense of community that it brings; also, that amount that you get back from it. For the 100 dollars that you spend on membership, you get like 100,000 dollars in value. I get to be a part of experiences that people couldn’t even buy if they wanted to. The education, products and the events that we get to go to are very exclusive and also a lot of fun!
You were recently part of Scott Deitche’s Cocktail Noir cocktail book; how did that come about?
Through my affiliation with the Mob Museum the writer contacted me via email. I was interested to be a part of the research part of a book. He asked me for some quotes and about my thoughts on some of the cocktails. I was just hoping for an honorable mention in the book, but he included a picture of me and a few paragraphs on my perspective on being a bartender. I don’t want to take credit for the drinks that he created for the book but I did help guide him and help him think like a bartender.
Do you always see yourself behind the bar?
What I’ve figured out is that I love the education part of the industry. Even when I was a server at TGI Fridays, I would volunteer to be the trainer because I enjoy it. Eventually what I would like to do is move into more of an educational role. Either brand ambassador, cocktail historian or general bar knowledge would be great. I like to make what can be a dry subject fun so that people can get more out of it.