The Bitter Bar has been at the forefront of the Colorado cocktail scene since it first opened as Happy's night-time alter ego three years ago. In fact, its list of classic and clever libations were so popular that owner Dave Query eventually decided to shut down his Boulder noodle house and focus on the drinks.
So in October, the Bitter Bar emerged as a stand-alone concept headed up -- and partially owned -- by Mark Stoddard.
No doubt, Stoddard helped the Bitter Bar attain its success. He's almost always behind the bar, crafting drinks with precision and waxing poetic on the nuances of spirits history with interested guests. He's trained a cadre of bartenders -- including Michael Cerretani, Burton Daniel and Noah Heaney -- in the art and science of mixology, and he led them to build a bar program that packs the house on a nightly basis. During his time behind the stick there, he's garnered national acclaim, not least because he won the 42 Below vodka cocktail world cup, bringing a major victory home to Colorado and showing that Rocky Mountain bartenders are world-class.
But now the Centennial State is losing Stoddard to San Francisco: The barman is leaving the Bitter Bar to be the national brand ambassador for Hendricks gin.
"I first heard about the position in August, but they didn't contact me until early January," he says. "The timing was great. I wouldn't have felt right leaving last fall, because the transition of the Bitter Bar had just happened. But things at the bar have gone better than I ever imagined. I think I really fulfilled my duty in helping the Bitter Bar grow."
And so he decided it was time for a change. "It's really one of the best jobs in the world," Stoddard insists. "Hendricks is arguably the best gin in the world, and I'll be its biggest cheerleader and champion and the face of Hendricks gin."
So what does that mean? "I'll visit bars, interact with consumers and increase awareness of Hendricks," he explains. "The company is famous for throwing outlandish, creative events, and I'll help with those. And I'll be developing cocktail recipes and doing straight education and gin-tastings."
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Still, after three years at his current venture, Stoddard acknowledges that leaving Boulder behind is bittersweet. "I still deeply, deeply love it," he says. "And it's not just the Bitter Bar, but Colorado as a whole. We've been on this journey trying to put Colorado on the map, and we've worked our asses off and had really great success. It was hard for me to tell guys like Bryan Dayton and Sean Kenyon because we've worked really hard together."
But Stoddard also says that his new role won't put a stop to his relentless cheerleading for the Bitter Bar in particular or this state in general. "Monday was our three-year anniversary at the Bitter Bar, and we have the strongest team behind the bar that we've ever had," he says. "I'm not washing my hands of it. I want to use a lot of the exposure that I'll get from traveling a ton to bring some of that recognition back to Michael, Noah and Burton at the Bitter Bar. And I'll still be a spokesperson for Colorado's cocktail program out on the road."
Stoddard's last night behind the bar is this Saturday; he leaves for San Francisco next week. Cerretani and Daniel will be stepping up to handle Stoddard's duties, and James Lee, who was also instrumental in the success of the Bitter Bar before he left a couple of years ago, will return to work at the bar a couple of nights a week.