Behind the Bar: Nate Windham from The Office@Blondies
Nate Windham talks dirty about martinis.
Nate Windham, cocktail and spirits specialist, created the bar program at Paragon Culinary School in Colorado Springs in 2003. He's currently the head bartender at The Office@Blondies at 20 North Tejon Street in the Springs, and a proud member of the Colorado Bartenders Guild. Earlier this month, he left his office at the Office to join his CoBG colleagues at the opening night of Denver Food & Wine, where he poured out the drinks, poured on the charm, and pushed his No Dirty Martinis movement.
Now serving: Nate Windham.
How did you get into bartending? I started bartending about fifteen years ago at T.G.I. Friday's. I hated it. I worked with a group of bartenders who had all been tending bar for at least five years. At the time, the Friday's bar was leading the way when it came to flair bartending, and almost every bartender I worked with was incredible at it. I wasn't. So to set myself apart from the rest, I decided to learn as much as I could about the art of cocktails and the history of this profession.
What is your favorite drink to make? That's easy: the martini. It is the only mixed drink I order; it is the best drink I make. I love the look on guests' faces when they drink a properly made martini for the first time. Like tasting a field of flowers.
What is your least favorite drink to make? This is almost as easy as the last: the dirty "martini." I take a lot of shit about this one, but I dislike it so much I refuse to make it in my bar. First off, it is not a martini. A martini is gin, vermouth and orange bitters, not vodka and olive brine. Second, if you squeeze olives, you get olive oil -- not olive juice. There is no such thing as olive juice; it is just preservative water. Lastly, this "drink" is a perfect example of what a Prohibition beverage would be. Take a spirit and cover it up with something so strong in flavor you can't taste the alcohol. I will work the rest of my years fighting against this awful beverage.
How do you feel about cutting people off? I hate that we have to do it. I try to dodge that bullet by trying not to let my guests get to the point where I have to refuse them service. Guests at my bar have to drink at my pace, not theirs.
What's your worst cutting-someone-off story? I have too many to narrow it down to just one. My favorite, however, is the forty-to-fifty-year-olds that I get to treat like children. It can be enjoyable, sometimes.
What do customers do that pisses you off most? Does ordering a dirty "martini" count? Other than that, I hate when customers feel like they are entitled to be loud and disruptive just because they are in a bar.
How many times do you have to see someone at your bar to consider them a regular? I have never really thought about that, so I guess I have to give the credit for this to Friday's. One of the driving forces at their bar was the "Corner Bar Theory." The theory was to make everyone who walks in the bar feel like they were at their own neighborhood or "corner" bar. I know this sounds corny, but it was Friday's. I still try to make most guests who walk into my bar feel like regulars immediately.
What's the must fun you've ever had while working? Every night behind the bar is the most fun I've ever had while working. I have the best job in the world.
What's your favorite alcohol? The distilled kind.
What's your drink of choice? The martini: 4 to 1 Junipero Gin to Noilly Pratt dry vermouth with a dash of orange bitters, stirred until icy cold and strained into a chilled five-ounce cocktail glass, with a lemon twist. A real twist, cut to order, twisted over the top of the drink to release that beautiful burst of oil, then rubbed peel-side down around the full rim of the glass, then discarded. I love this drink.
Aside from your co-workers, who do you consider the best bartender in Denver? There are some really strong bartenders in Denver these days. Mike Henderson (TAG) and Sean Kenyon (Steuben's); I love their classic style. Jared Boller (TAG) and Anika Zappe (Root Down), some of the most innovative cocktail minds in the state.
Do you have any rules when you're tending bar? I have so many rules pertaining to so many aspects of bartending. The short list: no mixes, only fresh product; consistent recipes; everything in its place; sense of urgency; never bitch about tips; treat everyone -- well, okay, not everyone -- as a guest; no dirty "martinis."
Bartending competitions. Love them? Hate them? My first competition was six months into my bartending career, and I was terrified. It was behind my first bar at Friday's, in front of about a thousand people. Okay, it may have been more like fifty, but it might as well have been a thousand. It was a flair competition, and I was terrified! It ended up okay. I finished second only because I didn't drop anything, but I swore I would never do that again. I enjoy entering cocktail competitions, even though I have never won one. I just love creating new drinks.
What do you do in your spare time? I own a 1908 arts and crafts bungalow here in the Springs that I am restoring, so that takes a lot of time. My favorite is the peace and quiet I get being away from the bar. It is such a loud profession.
What would you tell someone who wanted to get into bartending? My best advice would be to find a really good bartender and try to get behind their bar as a bar back. It's a tough job, but you're standing behind the bar, right beside the bartender. There isn't a better place to learn.
Tell us one thing about tending bar that we might not know: There are some of us who are really, really good at what we do, and if you search us out, we can teach you so much about the art of drinking. We want to serve you the best drink we can, so trust us. Oh, and liquor advertisers are our worst enemy.
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