15 Questions for Rick Dobbs
Bar owner Dobbs shares what made him leave the business world for bartending.
In honor of Tales of the Cocktail's 15th anniversary, Tales founder Ann Tuennerman is highlighting fifteen bartenders whose lives and careers have been impacted by attending the event, and whose work has elevated the industry as a whole. In this edition, meet Rick Dobbs, the owner of The Last Word bar in Livermore, CA. Dobbs' bar first won acclaim for its down-to-earth sensibilities and non-pretentious vibes, no doubt helped out by his very tongue-in-cheek, very dry how-to videos on YouTube.
Where were you born and raised?
Huntington Beach, CA
What attracted you to becoming a bartender in the first place?
I wanted to make people feel the way that I was made to feel when I came into a bar.
Was it planned, or was it a temporary gig that evolved into a career?
What and where was your first bartending job?
I worked a guest shift for Trevor Easter at a Charles Phan restaurant.
Was there a moment when you decided that bartending would be your career?
I was sitting in a 2:00pm meeting which was about my 3:00pm phone call which was about my 4:00pm meeting. I knew I had to get out and do something I really loved.
Was your family supportive of your decision to pursue bartending?
Nope. My wife at the time was pretty unhappy about it. She had immediate family who had done the restaurant business and failed.
For someone who wants to pursue bartending as a career, what top 3 tips would you offer?
- Be a good barback
- Don't come up with your own cocktails until you've mastered the classics
- Experience is everything. Even if you make a crappy drink, people only care about the experience
How did you first learn about Tales of the Cocktail?
Where there any challenges you had to overcome to attend Tales the first time (financial, logistical, etc.)?
The only one I had was that I had no idea what I was doing, where I was going, and I had never been to New Orleans before. It was a great adventure.
What was it like to be immersed in the community of bartenders and cocktail luminaries from all over the world? Did it confirm bartending as your calling?
Absolutely. Being able to talk with the people that were so passionate about the business that they wanted to go to a conference dedicated to it, as well as gaining a "big picture" understanding of the industry was right up my alley.
Kindly describe your top behind the bar experience where you impacted or inspired a guest?
Every single night we have people walk through our door that have been beaten down by their day. Maybe it's a middle manager that sat in a cubicle all day or a mom who is minutes away from dropping her kids off in the middle of the woods.
Impact and inspiration has to happen every day, not just a single guest. And it's not about hospitality or "say yes to everything," it's about meaningful experiences and interactions that have people walking out of the bar in a completely different mindset than when they walked in.
How would you sum up Tales to an aspiring bartender who is new to the profession?
Just like any convention, it's what you make it. It's easy to get caught up in any one of the facets of Tales. The key is balancing it all between the parties, the late nights, the education, and the special events.
What is your go-to cocktail when you go out?
What is your favorite cocktail to make for friends and family?