I like to talk to the people I meet when I'm out and about. One of these people is Joshua Seaburg, who at the time was running the bar at Twist at Town Center Virginia Beach. Josh, I know you're off doing your thing but I wanted to make sure everyone knew what you're about. Here is a little Q&A I had with him earlier this year.
(GC): You said you spent time down in the Caribbean? Where and how you ended up there? What did you do?
I moved to St. Thomas in December of 2012. I have some family down there who own a pretty large fine jewelry store, who I met when I visited on a cruise in August of that year. They invited me to learn the jewelry industry, and at the time I was dissatisfied with what I had going on in my life, and figured it would be a good experience. I ended up bringing my then-girlfriend down shortly after I moved there, and we worked together for my family's business, got engaged in June of 2013 and moved back for her to continue her education, and me to pursue craft bartending in my hometown.
(GC): How many years in the business do you have?
I've been in the restaurant industry since I was 16, tending bar since 21. My first bartending gig was at an Oceanfront tequila bar, where I started to learn about spirits (Tequila, in this case), and really came to understand how much there was to know.
(GC): What do you do? Where you want to go with it?
I am responsible for the spirits and cocktails..., as well as all the design and training that surrounds that. In practical terms, I develop recipes, educate staff and guests on what we have to offer, and train and supervise the bar staff. My goal...is to develop a nationally competitive cocktail program, and bring this area into the sort of craft cocktail renaissance that's been happening worldwide.
(GC): Can you tell me about the Fernet-Branca coin again? That story about the drink and a little bit about your experience in Richmond with it?
Fernet Branca is this really complex, bracing amaro that rose to prominence on the west coast as an insider shot among bar industry folk. It's much more well-known now than it was before, but it retains status as a wildly popular drink with bartenders. They give out very small amounts of these military-inspired challenge coins to deserving Fernet enthusiasts. As far as I know, I'm the only person in the area who has one, although I wouldn't be surprised if some folks in Charlottesville and Richmond had some too, especially John Maher at The Rogue Gentlemen. He was gracious enough to share some of his Fernet Branca from the 1960s the first time my buddy Stephan Stockwell (Chow, Norfolk, VA) and I stopped in right around their opening day. I had been put in touch with John by the east coast director for Fernet's distribution company, because he'd noted both of us for our love for Fernet Branca. John's from California, and definitely has more Fernet street cred than me.
(GC): Is there anything else you want people to know about you and your work.
I guess the main point that I want to embellish is that, just because I and my staff take drinking and cocktails very seriously, we don't expect that from our guests. The word mixologist carries kind of a bad reputation, because it conjures the image of a guy who feels like he's doing you a favor by serving this drink, and what kind of idiot are you if you don't know what Cynar is? I try to be very much the opposite - the first priority is to serve the guest's needs, not my own ego. One of my favorite quotes is from a book called Beta Cocktails: Bars exist to serve customers, not cocktails. I'm big into the idea that everyone who's at my bar has a need, and it's my job as a bartender to meet it. Sometimes that need is just a beer and some hospitality, not a 20-minute diatribe on obscure French Liqueurs.