In an interview with Time Out Chicago, Craig Schoettler, the former head of the cocktail program at Grant Achatz’s bar The Aviary, revealed something rather surprising for a celebrity bartender: before he accepted his new gig as head of the cocktail program at Chicago nightclub Drumbar, he’d actually never worked behind a bar.
Somehow, the 26-year-old Schoettler started his career as an unpaid intern for Achatz and his business partner Nick Kokonas at Alinea, and worked his way up the ranks to become the “executive chef of cocktails” for the Aviary, known for its cutting-edge cocktails and service pieces. But despite being a master mixologist in theory, Schoettler couldn’t bartend — a skill he decided to pick up when he went to Drumbar after a controversial breakup with Alinea and a six-month-long vacation. His rationale: “I wanted to do something to keep busy.”
His reputation preceded him, though, and on the second day of training, the hotel’s general manager put Schoettler in charge of the club’s beverage program. Though he demurs from creating an Aviary II (“If I wanted to do that, I could,” he shrugs), he’s bringing in small, science-y elements to Drumbar; namely, liquid nitrogen and sous vide machines.
The surprising morale of this story, however, isn’t the fact that Schoettler’s running a beverage program at a traditional club venue. Rather, it’s that he’s got the pull to run his own bar –without having ever been a real bartender. (As a general rule, six years as an Achatz employee = many investors.) We could see how Schoettler became brilliant at cocktail R&D, but it remains to be seen if he can translate that to a conventional, drink-slinging bar.
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