When Justin Lloyd inked the deal on Star Bar almost two years ago, he hadn't been behind a bar for fifteen years. His bartending skills, he admits, were a little rusty. "I bought Star Bar because I wanted to be in charge of my own destiny, but without being on the ground floor, you lose the connections -- you forget the tricks, he says. "I think it's important to be involved, though. It's something I really enjoy, but I hadn't done it on a daily basis for about fifteen years."
Still, Lloyd was passionate about transforming the old Star Bar into something new -- or sort of new: "I think bars got screwed up a long time ago," he notes. "Originally, bars and saloons were the local gathering place. They were where people went to catch up on the day's news. I grew up in Pueblo, where we used to have more bars per capita than any place in the States. I missed those place, and that's what I wanted Star Bar to be."
And while he didn't remodel the space -- preferring, instead, to preserve some of the "rustic charm" -- Lloyd cleaned it up and took it to another level, giving the bar a craft beer focus, In fact, his taplines pour some of the most interesting selections in the city, and he favors local distillers. As a result, he's pulled together an eclectic crowd of regulars and revelers, who come to geek out, converse and maybe belt out a track or two on karaoke night.
What follows are Lloyd's thoughts on returning to life behind the stick:
Bartending rule to live by: No matter what, whether you're an owner or not, if you're in there and you're an employee, you should have the mindset of "I'm gonna own this. Tonight, it's mine." With that in mind, the first rule has to be that it's gotta be about hospitality. You can't hope to make a viable business without hospitality, and at the end of the day, that's why I own a business -- I want it to be viable. Everything you do every day, hospitality has to be first. Be warm with people. Welcome them. Pay attention to them - what are they telling you? Some people will tell you they like whiskey, and that's great, but with others, you have to pry. It's important to try to pry.
Five words to describe your drink list: I don't have one. We started with a drink list that was based on old classics, but I think it's a lot more fun to not have a drink list. It's a lot more important to make that connection with a guest and be imaginative and fun.
Favorite drink on your list: Well, my favorite drink that I've made the most is the double Colorado blackberry whiskey sour. It's Stranahan's and blackberry whiskey from Leopold Bros. plus New Belgium La Folie. You say sour beer and it makes me melt inside. Unfortunately, I can only make it when I have La Folie on tap or something really similar. That's another part of why I don't have a drink list. A lot of my drinks involve beer, and I change the beer out all the time. Usually, the beer speaks to me first and then the spirits.
Favorite item on your back bar: For spirits, it's the Leopold Bros. Three Pins Alpine herbal liqueur. It's just amazing. There's just something about it that makes me think. And I think about something different every time I have it in my mouth. From a beer perspective, it's the G'Knight (formally Gordon) from OB. It's a wonderful example of something you can do with a style (and I hate that term -- style -- because it's just a box) if you really care about making quality. It just blows me away.
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What was your craziest night behind the stick? Right after we first reopened the bar, I had a huge group of fifteen or twenty college-aged girls roll in. After pumping out fifteen or twenty vodka sodas, they all wanted shots. I don't know why, but I hadn't even thought about shots. So I asked them what they liked. They said, "Vodka, duh." Then they asked for flavored vodka. I remembered an old recipe for a shot that was the lemon drop before the lemon drop. They all almost fell over because it was so strong.
We've had a lot of crazy nights at Star Bar, but from a bartending perspective, that was kind of it... I was disappointed in myself that I hadn't thought about shots, and I had to figure out what to do when none of them like my shots. To me, if you're gonna drink a shot, drink a shot. But that's not what they wanted.
Favorite Denver venue for a drink that's not your own and what you order when you're there: Just about any local brewery. I think it's imperative to support the local brewing and distilling movement. If there's a brewery close by and I'm in that mood, that's where I go. Otherwise, I go somewhere I know has great beer or great spirits and order something local.