Offbeat Occupations: Bartender shakes things up by creating cocktails

Bartender Katie Wade says part of her job at 715 restaurant is inventing new drinks.

Bartender Katie Wade says part of her job at 715 restaurant is inventing new drinks.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Bartender Katie Wade, a cocktail connoisseur.

Katie Wade says her job is part-bartender, part-inventor.

On a Sunday night in April, Katy Wade, 29, works behind the bar of 715, at 715 Mass.

She whirls around and starts to make a cocktail, an Andy Sidecar.

She grabs a martini glass and fills it with ice and water to keep it cool. Next she pours the essential liquids into a Boston shaker — an ounce and a half of house-infused apricot bourbon, half an ounce of cointreau, half an ounce of lemon and a couple dashes of rhubarb bitters. She shakes it vigorously for 5 seconds, then pours it into the chilled martini glass.

The drink doesn’t taste like rhubarb. But it smells enough like it to confuse the mind into adding another level of complexity, says Wade, who spends six nights a week working behind a bar.

Wade started out as a barista, a gig she did for six years. Then she became a bartender.

“Being a successful bartender is all about how you can manage the flow of work,” says Wade, as she effortlessly floats from one customer to the next, placing a bill in front of one, and a drink in front of another. She speaks to her customers with ease and confidence.

“The nice thing about our cocktail menu is that all of the bartenders are engaged,” says Wade. “This is not a part-time job to anyone. We all value what we do and we enjoy being part of people’s experience at the restaurant.”

Wade and the other bartenders at 715 have access to the fresh ingredients the cooks use: rosemary, cucumbers, balsamic vinegars and simple syrup.

And at the launch of her shift, Wade makes sure everything is “mise en place,” a French phrase meaning “set up.” Chefs use the term to refer to the ingredients they expect to use.

In Wade’s case, the ingredient list for crafting cocktails is a lengthy one, and it lines the bar.

First there is a bowl of fresh citrus: an orange, a lemon and a lime. Next there is a container filled with mint and another filled with olives. There are eight different kinds of bitters: grapefruit, rhubarb, chocolate, peach, celery, orange, organic and aromatic. There are salt and sugar and fresh spices. And there are about half a dozen house-infused spirits.

As it turns out, you can infuse nearly anything in alcohol — lavender, fig, roasted walnut, vanilla, orange, hot pepper. This sort of experimentation is something the bartenders at 715 embrace, says Wade.

On the ledge of the bar is a jar of rye whiskey infused with duck fat. The fat is bundled in a satchel, and doesn’t seep into the spirit but sits inside it for 24 hours. Then it’s frozen, thawed and used to make drinks like The Sophisticate.

The Sophisticate is the sort of concoction Wade and the other 715 bartenders come up with collectively.

Seasonally, the bartenders of 715 meet to discuss and test cocktails. They huddle around the bar, mix drinks and share ideas. By the end of the night, 30 martini glasses litter the bar.

The drinks that land on the menu at 715 are almost always a collaboration, says Wade, who considers herself a cocktail nerd. When you ask her about a drink, she pauses to respond, offering details about the drink’s history and evolution.

She takes her job seriously. At home she reads bar literature — she subscribes to Imbibe Magazine, and her most recent read was “Boozehound,” a book on spirits’ history. She also watches YouTube videos on the proper way to make certain cocktails, and she travels and studies how people in other cultures drink.

“I’m really interested in the way people drink alcohol in other countries,” says Wade, who recently got back from Mexico. “In Mexico, it was grapefruit season. Everyone was drinking fresh grapefruit juice and adding chilies to it. I asked them about that … The chilies make (the juice) sweeter and less bitter.”

Now Wade is putting hot sauce in some of her cocktails to see how the flavors interact. So far, she’s had good luck.

And the options are limitless. In recent years there has been a classic cocktail revival. So Wade has been tinkering with classic recipes, updating them with subtle substitutions.

“The owners (of 715) are great,” says Wade. “They have done a really good job of hiring people so they’re able to trust their staff and their creativity. They trust the bartenders to know what people like to drink. They kind of just let us do our thing. …

“It’s almost always a collaboration. Most of the time it’s a bartender with an idea. Then we tinker with it until we come up with something everyone thinks is good. … It’s nice to set a drink that you’re proud of down in front of somebody and watch them appreciate it.”