Adam Dunbar: If you're not having fun, it's not worth it
Kristin Olson, courtesy of Adam Dunbar
In this interview, Freshcraft's Adam Dunbar weighs in on the night of the Beast, his go-to beer and where he heads for a perfectly made Manhattan.
Westword: How long have you been a bartender? What made you get into the profession?
Adam Dunbar: My wife Amy and I moved here in April of '07. I got laid off at the end of '08; I was working with a hardwood floor company. I struggled for a little while trying to find anything. Amy was working at a law firm at the time, and she picked up a second job at Aix, where Olivea is now. I'd go sit and talk with her, and I kind of got mystified by the whole thing. I wanted to be behind the bar and understand every bottle back there. So a friend got me a job bussing tables at Sushi Den. I was 27, and I advanced quickly; I think my dedication showed through. I worked there for about three or four months, and then one of the head servers was going to open the Icehouse Tavern. He got an interview for me with the bar manager, Scott Skibo, and he gave me my first chance at the bar life.
When Little Pub Company bought the majority share of that, everyone lost their job. I went to Andrew's and bar backed for a little while, then they closed. I drove a limo for a little while, then I got my job at Freshcraft. I left Freshcraft for Encore for a bit but then went back to Freshcraft, where I'm the bar manager and one of the house managers.
By the time I landed at Freshcraft, I was definitely a beer guy, but I still didn't know what I was doing. I got into beer because I got tired of crap beer -- I knew there was more out there. I was right, as it turns out. I started experimenting with going to the liquor store and experiencing new stuff.
Bartending rule to live by: I have two. First, Kevin Burke once told me words that I'll always stick to: Your job as a bartender is one simple thing -- tend to your bar. And the other is always have fun. If you're not having fun, it's not worth it. This job is the most fun thing I've ever done in my life. There have been times and places where it's harder to have fun, but you just have to make the most of your situation. That's why I think Freshcraft is a really good fit -- we have a lot of fun.
Five words to describe your drink list: Expansive, approachable, intimidating, tasteful and modern.
Favorite drink on your list: That's such a tough thing. We've got a beer cocktail on the menu called Sister Cities -- it's Leopold's Apple, Leopold's American orange and lemon juice shaken and then topped with Boulevard Sun-filtered Wheat. It does some really cool things to the beer, and it just accentuates the flavors that come out. It's an easy sell. Honestly, though, we've got wonderful cocktails, but I'm such a beer guy. My go-to beer, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is Odell's IPA. As far as IPA goes in Colorado, Odell's has it beat.
Favorite item on your back bar: My bottle of Fernet Branca.
What was your craziest night behind the stick? Any night during Great American Beer Fest. Pick a night at random, it doesn't make a difference. They were all bonkers. The biggest, most intense night we had was during an event with Avery, and we poured all of the Beast beers in the same room at the same time: Mephistopheles, Meph Addict, Samael's and The Beast. We were the deepest at the bar than maybe I've ever seen -- and it was amazing. Darren, our Avery rep, stood on the bar and announced that it was the first time the Beasts had been poured in the same establishment, which was really neat to have.
Favorite Denver venue for a drink that's not your own and what you order when you're there: I'm going to go with Colt & Gray for that one. For a number of reasons. When Parker [Ramey, who's now at Trillium] opened it up, we'd go visit him -- but he and Kevin [Burke] started being my go-to guys for inspiration. I know I can always go because I can name a spirit and they can make me something. Also, I'm a sucker for a really good Manhattan, and it's always perfect there. When I'm teaching someone about what I do, I tell them to read material and come back when they can explain how to make a good Manhattan. I grew up with my dad making them completely wrong, but that's the one thing I have in common with my dad booze-wise.
What's next for the Denver bartending scene? I think we're already seeing it: It's a mega-shift from artisan cocktails and less-than-stellar cocktail lists to people actually giving a shit. And more important, the consumers care more about what they're drinking then what they're spending their money on. There are always going to be those places that thrive on flavored booze, but I think people are more interested in spending money on quality stuff. And I think that's going to grow and grow.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Denver dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.