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Bartender Q&A with Chris Milligan

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Mixologist Chris Milligan of Santa Fe's Secreto Lounge

Mixologist Chris Milligan of Santa Fe's Secreto Lounge

Photo Courtesy: © Chris Milligan

An Introduction to Chris Milligan:

When it comes to bartending there are many things that can be learned from those who have years of experience behind the stick. Many of these bartenders have seen the recent evolution of the craft for themselves and have invaluable advice for those just starting out in the field. Chris Milligan is one of them and his blog, The Santa Fe Barman, is one of my regular favorites because he brings practical advice into this ever-changing industry.

Milligan is currently the head bartender at Secreto Lounge in Santa Fe, New Mexico and is a consultant for other bars and restaurants.

Recently, Milligan agreed to act as a judge for the cocktail contest held regularly on this site./p>

How did you get your start as a bartender?:

CM: I was in college waiting tables at a Mexican/Latin cuisine restaurant and was one of 3 relief bartenders. One of the full timers left, and I pushed myself on the Head Bartender to fill the position. I was given a list of things I had to learn and was told he would give me a week trial. The moment I got behind the wood, I knew I had found my place and have been doing it ever since

Have your degrees in psychology and philosophy have helped with your service?:

CM: Reading and responding to a guest’s mood is a talent that I think my degrees have brought to the bar. A good bartender has be to a people person, and be able to respond to people in a way that, no matter how the guest is feeling, the bartender make them feel comfortable and welcome.

What are the personality keys to a good bartender?:

CM: A strong outgoing personality is most important, along with a positive attitude. I was pretty introverted when I first started behind the bar, but because of the showmanship demands of the job, it helped me bring out the extrovert inside. And attitude is key. No matter what mood you might be in or what is going on in your personal life, once you step behind the bar, you are on stage and have to perform.

What are the key skills a good bartender needs?:

CM: Attitude, communication, and entertainment are the best skills a bartender can have. Also, good organization skills are important. The bar biz is a fast paced world and a bartender has to be able to do “the dance”; balancing guests, servers, orders, and other bartenders in a way that everyone is taken care of as fast as possible.

How important is it for a bartender to understand spirits, beers, and wines?:

CM: I think it is very important. I would be skeptical of a chef who didn’t know about his food, or a pharmacist that didn’t know about medication. A good bartender should learn as much as he or she can about their profession even if tending bar isn’t their life career.

Do you see any regional influences in the drink preferences of the Southwest?:

CM: In my bar, Secreto Lounge, we shop the local farmer’s market and buy as much locally grown produce and herbs as we can. Great drinks require great ingredients. We are very lucky in the Southwest to have a lot of ingredients that other parts of the country do not have access. And I think it is important to use not only fresh ingredients but indigenous ones as well. And I have to say the look on my customer’s faces when I add a little New Mexico green chile to a drink is priceless!

Why do you think it is important for bar managers to bring in a consultant?:

CM: Everyone needs to feel that managers and owners are doing all they can to ensure success for the whole team and there are many reasons to bring in a consultant. It may be to simply revitalize the staff, which will in turn jazz up the customers and create new regulars. It might be to get some fresh thinking or new ideas to make the bar more efficient. It could be to bring the staff to a new level of service or to go beyond the drink menu and create a cocktail program. Whatever the reason, it is an investment every bar owner should look at because it will put more money in the staff’s pockets and the bottom line.

What is the one mistake you see young bartenders make?:

CM: Not organizing their work space. During operation everything has its place: every bottle, every tool. I see a lot of new bartenders not follow the “mise en place” guidelines, then spend several minutes looking for something. Those minutes add up quick and slow down customer service which is never a good thing. That and texting. 1

More From Milligan...:

Is there anything in the industry today that you are excited about?:

CM: More and more bartenders are learning about classic cocktails and proper technique, which is awesome! I love the "market fresh" trend like we are doing at Secreto as well. I also see bartenders taking this profession seriously again.

Do you have an original drink you'd like to share?:

The Basil-ica Cocktail - recipe here...

CM: I named this drink in honor of St Francis Cathedral-Basilca here in Santa Fe. It is a great little drink, designed in a classic sense and uses fresh ingredients, which is the basis I try to use with all the drinks I make. I want my guests to be able to experience flavors they have never had in a drink, and do something above and beyond. I believe the cocktail is the real First Course and sets the tone for the rest of the evening whether you're dining out or bar hopping.

Find Chris Milligan:

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  2. Food
  3. Cocktails
  4. Professional Bartending
  5. Bartender Q&A
  6. Interview with Chris Milligan of Secreto Lounge - Bartender Q&A with The Santa Fe Barman Chris Milligan

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