Wellness

How Do Bartenders Fuel Their Creativity?

A person garnishing drinks with herbs.
Creating interesting, inventive cocktails for your menu is no easy task. Learn how to recharge your creative energy to make your drinks top-notch. Photo via Flickr/star5112.

It’s the ultimate challenge for creative minds: staying inspired and continuing to innovate. There’s research to suggest creativity is catalyzed by exercise, conversation and rest. Some people look inward through meditation; others are energized by engaging with peers and loved ones. There are bartenders who have their best ideas when they take a break in nature, and there are those who look to other mediums of art for ideas. Whether you’re motivated by visiting other bars or going to a museum, what matters is finding what works for you. We talked to several of the industry’s creative minds to see how they fuel their fires.

Sam McGarry (Nightcap — Edinburgh, Scotland)

Where do you find inspiration for new ideas?

Career bartenders tend to spend a lot of time working in their bars and drinking in their own or others' bars. I think it's important to remember the world outside the saloon doors. Try to have a day a week were you enjoy life without thinking to heavily about your work life. You'll soon remember these days when your back at work looking for inspiration when writing your new menu. Maybe you base a drink around a day where you walked through the park, smelled a flower you'd never seen before — how that made you feel. Great drinks should stimulate nostalgia.

What helps you break out of creative ruts? What do you do when you're feeling uninspired?

Again, I think similar surroundings create creative block. New atmosphere, new people and a disconnected mind set should get the ball rolling again. My ideas come at the seemingly oddest parts of the day. I could be eating my breakfast and think, "what if I could drink this?" That day I went into work with natural yogurt and granola and ended up putting a drink known as the Molly Ringwald on the menu.

Do you have any creative outlets or pursuits outside of bartending? Do you feel that they help your creativity behind the bar?

I'd recommend consistently doing something different with your free time to get inspired. Ideally something physical. An active body encourages an active mind.

Tiffany Hernandez (Arts District Brewing Co. and Here's Looking at You — Los Angeles, California)

Where do you find inspiration for new ideas?

As an animation major, one of my favorite subjects to draw are superheroes — they inspire me. The same with how I have been learning the craft with cocktails, people still inspire me. From their culture, their style, the weird 3 a.m. food pairings that visually don't make sense but taste like a Michelin Star-worthy dish. Having more of a human connection between the glass and myself is what gets the juices flowing.

What helps you break out of creative ruts? What do you do when you're feeling uninspired?

The same with when I'm just stuck on a blank canvas, I step away, I take a stroll, I go to the theaters and see a new movie, I go to the mall and people-watch. When the heavens allow, I spend a day at Disneyland and really clear my mind. When you take time to revisit a creative project after being stuck in a rut of "what is it missing?", you get the clarity you need.

Do you have any creative outlets or pursuits outside of bartending? Do you feel that they help your creativity behind the bar?

Definitely being an animation major helps me see things in a different way, as well as my cosmetology background. I also am a stylist for a musical duo and thinking of how to make their brand work from head to toe styling and makeup wise is so fun. The same with creating a a garnish, tincture, a cocktail or a menu — it has to be fun!

Jose Luis Leon (Licoreria Limantour and Baltra — Mexico City, Mexico)

Where do you find inspiration for new ideas?

Everywhere, but very focused now in contemporary art museums, cookbooks, Chef's Table.

What helps you break out of creative ruts? What do you do when you're feeling uninspired?

I walk a lot around the city, there are a couple of places that make me feel lucky about what [I am] and what I'm doing.

Do you have any creative outlets or pursuits outside of bartending? Do you feel that they help your creativity behind the bar?

Now I'm trying to learn about photo, I think that provides me a different point of view about aesthetics, composition, shapes, lights and colors; things or concepts that, of course, you can find in a cocktail.

Hannah Waters (Skinny's Lounge — Singapore)

Where do you find inspiration for new ideas?

I find the greatest inspiration in sharing ideas with others and having people share theirs with me. There's so much to inspire us the world around but I'm a firm believer that two minds [or more] are better than one.

What helps you break out of creative ruts? What do you do when you're feeling uninspired?

Rest! It is the greatest restorer of my creativity.

Do you have any creative outlets or pursuits outside of bartending? Do you feel that they help your creativity behind the bar?

I don't think it's limited to one specific thing, there's enough going on day to day to draw inspiration from.

Vita Vladimirski (French 57 — Tel Aviv, Israel)

Where do you find inspiration for new ideas?

The small details of everyday life. It can be the blossom of citrus trees. Item of clothing of an interesting character, a picture hung on the wall of a neighborhood restaurant or even a conversation between friends. Inspiration is everywhere; just need to open your eyes and keep an open mind.

What helps you break out of creative ruts? What do you do when you're feeling uninspired?

Sometimes I need to just get away and step out of it. Excessive thinking can create creative blocks. So I put the thoughts aside, change the environment and do something different. Then look at the project with renewed strength and perhaps new ideas.

Do you have any creative outlets or pursuits outside of bartending? Do you feel that they help your creativity behind the bar?

I always liked to create with my hands. Take something whole, break it apart and build something new. Jewelry, clothing, ornament and tools. I use this point of view now in my bar.

Jeff Lichtenberger (Extra Virgin — Kansas City, Missouri)

Where do you find inspiration for new ideas?

If I'm needing to find inspiration, I usually will find something I'm interested in (flavor profile, style of drink or cultural background) to help guide and also enlighten me. But if I'm looking for that one thing that helps me finalize or tweak something it's usually through a hive mind or brainstorming process. There's nothing I enjoy more than working together with my peers and conceptualizing something great.

What helps you break out of creative ruts? What do you do when you're feeling uninspired?

Being in a rut and feeling uninspired are all about me being in in my comfort zone for too long. Get out there, live life and have fun. Some of my best ideas come to me when I'm not even focusing on the topic at hand.

Do you have any creative outlets or pursuits outside of bartending? Do you feel that they help your creativity behind the bar?

I thoroughly enjoy cooking. So being able to think of ingredients and what they pair with is crucial. The patience in prepping and mise en place that goes into coming really shines through in my everyday work behind the bar. I also paint and draw. Which, when applied to cocktails, results in some really creative plating and unique cocktail presentation.

Kaleena Goldsworthy (Flying Squirrel Bar — Chattanooga, Tennessee)

Where do you find inspiration for new ideas?

I love visiting a local farm and seeing what they have to offer in terms of super seasonal and more bizarre produce and products. I am a total nerd, so I love doing research on classic cocktails and seeing what the current trends are. I find inspiration in trying to balance the two and at the same time adding an element of something different. I am truly inspired by trying things I know might fail. If they fail, I've learned something — but if they don't fail, it's a pretty great feeling.

What helps you break out of creative ruts? What do you do when you're feeling uninspired?

To break out of creative ruts, I tend to research different ingredients or flavor profiles. I try to think in seasons, so one thing normally leads to another and I find myself on some sort of inspired path after that. When I'm feeling uninspired, I like to see what other people are doing, what inspires them, and then translate that into my life. Energy is contagious, so if I surround myself with people who are creating new things, I find myself more inspired.

Do you have any creative outlets or pursuits outside of bartending? Do you feel that they help your creativity behind the bar?

I study herbalism as a hobby. The herbalism work absolutely helps my creativity behind the bar because I find that a development or a spark of interest in that world can often lead me to creating something new in a cocktail.

Andrea Currello (Marmalade — Barcelona, Spain)

Where do you find inspiration for new ideas?

The kitchen is an inexhaustible birthplace for cocktails. The mix of colors, aromas, flavors and textures found in chef’s territory breed bar genius like no other. You have all the raw materials right there! The Internet is also a great source for insight of new tendencies and technique.

What helps you break out of creative ruts? What do you do when you're feeling uninspired?

I go to the beach! The sea has this effect on me that makes me forget everything, clears my mind, almost like a reset. And all of a sudden I see something or hear something, or just an idea appears that fuels my creative genius.

Do you have any creative outlets or pursuits outside of bartending? Do you feel that they help your creativity behind the bar?

Everything I do, every craft, sport or hobby I undertake nurtures how I perform behind the bar. I think my creativity at work is not limited to the production of cocktails, but to every skill I make use of at the bar. My reflexes improve with Krav Maga, so I move smoothly and I’m able to know what’s happening 360 degrees. Singing has given me some insight on how to modulate my voice, so I don’t have to yell through the noise or I change my tone according to the situation. Communication with my coworkers, problem solving, serving of customers, stress handling … every aspect of the job gets benefited of having other interests outside the bar.

Joy Flanagan (Armsby Abbey — Worcester, Massachusetts)

Where do you find inspiration for new ideas?

I find inspiration from seasonal produce and flowers, ethnic restaurants, Pinterest, culinary magazines, farmers markets, The Flavor Bible.

What helps you break out of creative ruts? What do you do when you're feeling uninspired?

I think the ruts only come when you're afraid of making something bad, which I'm not. I know that some ideas turn out well and others require work, but input and diligence will help arrive at success.

Do you have any creative outlets or pursuits outside of bartending? Do you feel that they help your creativity behind the bar?

I always like to create whether it be baking, painting, refinishing furniture, jewelry making, or screen printing. I think keeping the creative mind active must help, because it does help quell that fear of doing something "wrong" or making something that's not good enough.

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