Bar wizard Matty Durgin lands behind the stick at Z Cuisine A Cote

It's been an interesting few weeks for bartender Matty Durgin. The rum collector, tiki-night instigator and cocktail czar, who was initially hired to spearhead the bar program at Adrift, a new tiki bar and restaurant on South Broadway, abruptly departed before it opened last week. But that's nothing compared to this: His 84-year-old aunt Sophie, a widow, was one of the residents whose living quarters went up in flames on April 6 when a Navy fighter jet crashed into their apartment building in Virginia Beach, Virginia. "She's absolutely fine -- she escaped with just the clothes on her back, but she's unscathed," Durgin assures me.

And while he's understandably shaken by that disaster, he's also focused on his new gig at Z Cuisine À Côté a Absinthe, the next-door wine bar to Z Cuisine, the lovely French bistro owned by Patrick and Lynnde DuPays.

"My romance with food began in French restaurants, and I've always been fascinated by absinthe, so this job is like coming full circle," says Durgin, who's now in his second week behind the bar at À Côté and learned about the gig from Sean Kenyon, Westword's "Ask the Bartender" contributor and the chief bartender at Williams & Graham. "Sean reached out to me, I reached out to Patrick, and after two lengthy interviews, everything just fell into place," adds Durgin, noting that he plans to launch a new cocktail program within the next few weeks.

The beverage syllabus, he explains, will include several new cocktails concocted with rum, along with "Prohibition-era New Orleans cocktails, classics from Harry's New York Bar in Paris and cocktails that embrace seasonality." And while Durgin admits that rum is a new addition to the bar lineup at A Cote -- which, not surprisingly, focuses on French libations -- he stresses that the rum collection will be anything but pedestrian. "Rum will definitely have a voice here, but everything I'm using is French Colony rum, some of it from my own weird and elusive stash."

But it wasn't just the opportunity to create a new cocktail program with Durgin's favorite spirit that convinced him to take the job. "Patrick and Lindsey are genuine people with a very clear vision, and it's refreshing to work with people who don't compromise," asserts Durgin. "I'm really lucky that this opportunity became available when I became available, and I'm excited to work in a wonderful place with a great team who wants to up the ante and make the cocktail program more crafty."

Durgin will be pouring drinks Tuesday through Saturday, when A Cote is open, and the kitchen, he says, will continue to turn out its "wonderful French bistro food," along with some new canning dishes. "We're really getting into canning here -- olives, sardines and all sorts of other cool little things -- which we're really excited about," he says, adding that if you drop by the bar for a drink or sardines, "we'll always find you a spot."

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