Monday, March 09, 2009

The Bartender Diaries: Jeffrey Morgenthaler

I first became pals with blogger / bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler when I was in Thailand about 2 years ago. I was on vacation with my husband, and when I checked my blog, I saw that some guy in Oregon referred to me as the “Cocktail Goddess to the Rich and Famous.” Needless to say, I snapped him up as my new male BFF that very moment, and have held him in fond esteem ever since. Not only is he one of the few professional bartenders who has a way with the written word, but his sharp wit and biting humor will leave you laughing, crying, somewhat bewildered -and you’ll come away from it having learned something, too.

Jeffrey has been bartending since 1996 after tossing a coin between being a dishwasher or a bartender, and drunk chicks at bars all around the Northwest are thanking their lucky stars ole’ Morgenthaler ain’t stuck in the back of the kitchen. The other interesting sidenote of Jeffrey’s story is that he chose bartending to get over his “shyness and difficulty speaking in public,” which made me laugh so hard I peed a little. Anyone who’s met the guy (and seen him work his magic on the ladies) wouldn’t buy that line if it were on sale in the blue light special.

While many people look to Jeffrey as a mentor behind the bar, he says that he didn’t really “get into” the kind of bartending he does today until the late 90’s. He was turned onto mixology via San Francisco Paul Harrington’s now defunct Hotwired Cocktail site. Jeffery points out, “His passion for bartending as a craft, understanding of its history, and elegant prosaic writing style inspired me to delve deeper into the profession I'd already been a part of for several years.”

Morgenthaler says he got kicked out of, I mean worked at, just about every bar in Eugene, Oregon before recently moving to Portland, to work at Clyde Common which he calls “a big, busy, urban gastropub,” and says he loves.

Jeffrey says that he’s not the most prolific bartender in terms of new creations, but likes to rediscover the drinks he’s made a thousand times before, pointing out, “One of the best philosophies I've heard on cooking is that to learn how to cook, you must first perfect the egg.”

We all know that behind every great man, there is a woman, and Jeffrey credits a lady named Nancy Bertini as having who trai
ned him. He refers to her as, “Firm yet hospitable with the rough-and-tumble clientele, Nancy knew how to command a room.” Later, when he started got into spirits and cocktails, he’d watch the better bartenders work, while simultaneously soaking up cocktailian wisdom from Paul Harrington, Trader Vic, Charles H. Baker, among others.

When Jeffrey started his blog around 2004, the original intention was to keep a portfolio of architectural and web design work, and show off the occasional pictures of pets, vacations, etc. However, he noticed that people were particularly interested in his cocktail posts, so he took it that direction. Because he works behind a bar, his blog appeals to both bartenders and enthusiasts who appreciate a professional perspective.

Jeffrey particularly likes drinking what he calls “very feminine cocktails,” which doesn’t mean he wants "girlie" drinks, but rather a delicate balance of flavors with
depth and sophistication. In his words, “Order a Cosmopolitan, and then order a Negroni. It's like discovering the difference between a young girl and a woman. And I think that's where the beauty of the cocktail lies.” (Do you see what I mean about making the ladies swoon?)

While he considers a bar “a sacred social place,” he likes to spend his time off walking, swimming, reading and cooking. Jeffrey explains, “Nothing beats being barefoot in the kitchen, listening to music and sipping wine while I cook. And at least once a week, I like to have someone cook for me - going to a restaurant and trying something new with good company is one of life's great pleasures.”

So, how does a guy who’s charming, cooks and makes a mean cocktail stay single? “The hours and the lifestyle can be tough on a relationship,” explains Jeff. “I make a point of spending as much time outside of bars as I can…but the words of Willie Nelson always ring in my ears: ‘The nightlife ain't a good life, but it's my life.’”

Jeffrey’s latest role model is a German bartender named Gonçalo De Souza Monteiro whom he met while delivering a presentation at the BCB in Berlin this past fall, “We have similar career arcs - both exploring architecture before falling in love with bartending - and a very similar set of bartending philosophies,” he says. “I think he's one of the best practicing bartenders out there right now, and sadly very few people in the United States know who he is. I hope to help change that.”

Jeffrey’s dream is: “to help restore the profession of bartending to its rightful place as the original American contribution to the culinary arts” and to travel the world doing just that. His favorite drinks are many: Manhattan, the perfect Old Fashioned and Mint Julep, and refers to the Sidecar as his “first love.” Jeff shares, “ Right now I often find myself thirsty for a Daiquiri made with aged rum (I love using El Dorado 15 for this), 2:1 simple syrup and fresh lime. When the proportions are spot on, few things are better.”

Indeed, just as with people, the perfect cocktail is all about the balance. Cheers, Mr. Morgenthaler.
Xo Your pal, The Cocktail Goddess to the Rich and Famous


Jeff Frane said...

Hey, guys like Morgenthaler too! But I'm a little dubious of all that "barefoot in the kitchen", long walks on the beach sharing . . . are you sure we're talking about Morgenthaler?

What I love most about him as a bartender is that respect for the classics, and his ability to create new classics (the Richmond Gimlet, certainly) that are simple and delicious.

"Barefoot in the kitchen", though, I'm guessing came from the personal ads in The Mercury.

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