Monday, October 18, 2010

Spotlight: Alex Hecht, The Gibson's Top Bartender

Meet Alex.  
Photo by Emily Clack
Tell us about your bar-tending background.

My background in bartending is pretty varied.  I started as a barback/doorman at Garrett's Tavern in Georgetown.  After that I went a little more upscale, working at a small craft bistro in New York, Cafe Diane.  I'd always had an interest in wine and spirits, but never really had an outlet to explore that.  Cafe Diane allowed me to gain experience both technically and relative to booze as well.  When I came back to DC for school, I started bartending for private events at Smith and Wollensky, and thanks to some of the staff there, my knowledge of wine and spirits increased exponentially.  I independently read up on mixology, but never really experienced it until working at Bourbon Steak in the Four Seasons as a server.  There I met Kevin Diedrich, a San Francisco transplant who designed and implemented the restaurant's bar program.  His tutelage, coupled with his counterparts Duane Sylvestre, Dean Feddaoui, and Jaime MacBain imbued me with the knowledge and technical skills to be successful as a bartender.  I then worked for Founding Farmer's sister restaurant, Farmers and Fishers, and executed a cocktail program designed by Jon Arroyo.  F and F was critical in actually allowing me to implement those skills I had learned, and giving me the necessary expertise to not look like a fool when making cocktails.  While at F and F, I helped a friend of mine design a cocktail program for his new restaurant, Acqua al 2, on Capitol Hill.  A Florentine transplant, I focused on using various Amaros to craft cocktails that showcased Italian Flair.  Eventually, I left F and F for a job at the Gibson, which is where I am today.

Favorite drink?

Photo by Emily Clack
My favorite drink depends a lot on my mood, but a safe bet is always an Vesper.  A little bit of gin, some vodka, and some Lillet Blanc.  It's a variation on a martini with a little more sweetness from the lillet, but a dry bitterness from the lillet.  It's light and crisp, but at the same time it packs a punch.  It's also James Bond's drink, so there's that too.  The original recipe called for Kina Lillet, which was a quinquina (an aperitif with quinine) but the recipe for that has gone by the wayside.  A new quinquina, Cocchi Americano, became available recently, and it makes the Vesper a whole lot more delicious.

What's it like to work at the Gibson?
Photo by Emily Clack
Working at the Gibson is pretty incredible.  It's definitely at the pinnacle of craft bartending in DC, and the knowledge and experience I've gained in the limited amount of time I've worked there is invaluable.  I got hired with four other people, and we spent a week and a half doing classroom training and tasting before we even stepped foot behind the bar.  That classroom period culminated in a practical and written final.  More than anything else though, it's an amazing experience to work with people who are at the top of their game.  I felt that at Bourbon Steak in regards to the food, and I feel that at Gibson relative to cocktails.  Jon and his staff are so knowledgeable when it comes to cocktails and spirits that it's an extremely enriching experience every time I cross the threshold.  The Gibson represents everything I look for in a bar I want to drink in, and as such, I love working there.

What is your favorite local bar and why?

I don't have just one favorite bar, but I have a few that I frequent fairly often.  I love the Passenger on 7th not just for the cocktails, but for their hotdogs and beer selection too.  I like Bourbon Steak's lounge for an upscale night out, and for a relaxed night with friends, I like going to Clyde's of Georgetown and grabbing a burger and a pint.

How do you de-stress after a long day of working?

After a long day of work, I like coming home to my girlfriend and my puppy.  An hour with them and I'm completely calm.

What are your most exciting challenges right now?

I've got a bunch of exciting challenges to deal with right now.  I'm in the midst of trying to get into the Navy's Officer Candidate School, and that involves a lot of studying and exercising, both of which are difficult to do when you work all night.  As I mentioned earlier, I also just got a puppy, which is making my domestic life interesting to say the least.  Nothing like coming home at three am and getting up at eight to walk her.
Share your favorite fall cocktail recipe?

A great fall cocktail recipe is a cocktail I call "Iduna;" named after the Norse goddess who provided the gods with apples, thereby providing them eternal youthfulness.  It's a mixture of apple brandy, ginger syrup, lemon juice, and bitters.  When all the flavors come together, it tastes like a crisp, baked apple.

2 Oz. Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy (Or Apple Jack)

1 1/2 Oz. Ginger Syrup
3/4 Oz. Lemon Juice
Dash Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters

Shake, double strain, and serve up.  Garnish with a lemon peel.

I'm so glad that DC is finally becoming a cocktail town.  It's been a long time coming, but it looks like the cocktail renaissance is finally taking hold in our town.  We've got people coming in who know what they want and know what they're talking about.  As a bartender, that makes my job much easier, and that much more enjoyable.  Thanks for drinking.  Cheers!

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