The country in the midst of a veritable cocktail renaissance -- and Hey Bartender, a documentary that tells the story of the bartender in the era of the craft cocktail, offers a revealing look into the rebirth of the bartender and the comeback of the cocktail.
Hey Bartender had its world premiere at SXSW Film Festival in March, with a hugely successful theatrical release in New York City just last week. The film makes its Denver debut at the Sie FilmCenter today with a one-week run that includes a visit from two of the stars, well-regarded bartenders Jim Ryan and Jim Meehan, on Tuesday June 18.
Hey Bartender features Stephen Carpentieri (aka Carpi), a former Citi Group VP who opened Dunville's, a corner restaurant and bar to create a spot that catered to the working class and the white collar communities of Westport, Connecticut. But after eighteen years, he must decide what he's willing to do to save his bar, or if it's time to pack it up and close the neighborhood staple for good.
We caught up with Carpentieri to talk about his involvement in the film, being on camera, what it means to be a bartender, and the expectations that come with the job.
Westword: How did you get involved with Hey Bartender?
Stephen Carpentieri: The director, Douglas Tirola, had been in a few times and mentioned that he was considering a documentary on bar culture and the renaissance of the cocktail. I was flattered that someone thought my journey was interesting. It's a little scary having someone film your life, both the successes and failures. Actually scratch the word failure and classify them as "failed attempts."
Cocktail culture has changed a lot in the last few years. What kind of changes have stood out to you?
There is a certain sense of pride that has changed within the culture. People are taking notice of the best in our industry. To watch and read about the pioneers, mentors and portfolio ambassadors like Dale DeGroff, Dushan Zaric, Jim Meehan, Julie Reiner, Charlotte Voisey, Sasha Petraske and Steve Schneider, just to name a few, is inspirational. You want to make them proud by excelling. It's a way to pay homage and applaud their efforts for the resurgence and respect that accompanies our craft.
Why is it important, to you personally, that people see what it truly means to be a bartender, especially in terms of us living in a cocktail renaissance right now?
Anyone can pour a drink. It takes a special person to create a cocktail and make it interesting. Hospitality is key to our success. It's a bartender's responsibility to make you feel special and elevate your mood. If you can do this, anytime that person is having a bad day, they will seek you out based on a fond memory. Having a good time is contagious. It's an amazing opportunity and feeling to have the ability to make someone smile.
Historically, bartenders have a certain stereotype -- especially in film. This stereotype becomes less valid as bartenders and mixologists across the country further their careers in the same way that non working-class people do with theirs. Where do you see yourself falling into this?
As our craft continues to grow and change in the same way foodie cultures have changed over the last twenty years, the bartenders importance in the community becomes more apparent. It is once again socially acceptable to choose this as your career and it is an honor that I value. As I mentioned before, it goes way beyond the cocktail itself.
What is it like to work at a place where people go to escape? how does that help or affect your own happiness?
People frequent bars and restaurants in search of something they can't get anywhere else. Whether it's the friendly greeting from your bartender, a conversation with a complete stranger, an escape from your daily grind, love or just a place that makes you feel like you belong. A great bar is the heartbeat of its community. It is impossible not to smile and be happy knowing that you play a huge part in this. To quote my friend Dushan, "when we do this we feel alive, and when we feel alive, we are happy."
You can catch Hey Bartender at the Sie FilmCenter until June 20; tickets are available on the Sie's web site.
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