Veteran barman Greg Matheson is one of those rare individuals who listens more than he talks.
What's the difference between The Rolling Stones & a Scottish Man?
I'm not sure.
The Rolling Stones sang, "Hey you, get off of my cloud" the Scottish Man says, "Hey McCloud, get off of my Ewe"
How long have you been bartending?
Started bartending in 1991 at Gatsby's in Asheville. I was a student and I lived above the bar. It was an exciting time! My first job in Wilmington was, and still is, at City Club. I managed Percy's Jazz Bar for the previous owners from 2002 to 2005. It was the first smoke-free bar in town named for jazz legend Percy Heath, a native Wilmingtonian. During that time I really started taking an interest in the history of mixology.
Has the craft taught you anything?
I adhere to the "Bar Golden Rule" which is to treat your patrons as you wish to be treated. I am also a firm believer in knowing the history of your craft . As in life, how can you know where you're going if you don't know where you've been?
What's the crazy scene you've ever witnessed?
As any good bartender, we never tell! However, I will say that just when you think you've seen it all - you'll find that you stand corrected!
Favorite drinks to make?The de Rosset Pimm's Cup is my favorite creation. I find adding ginger beer in place of lemon/lime soda is a refreshing twist. I also add the muddled cucumber, lemon and mint as well as Hendricks Gin to make the cocktail my own.
Favorite cocktail spots?
Spice Market in New York City, Husk in Charleston, South Carolina and Commander Palace in New Orleans.
The deRosset Pimm's Cup1 1/2 oz. of Pimm's No. 1 Liqueur1/2 oz. Hendricks Gin3 oz. Goslings Ginger Beer1 Fresh Mint Leaf1 Cucumber Wedge1 Lemon WedgeMuddle together the cucumber wedge, mint, & lemon wedge. Add the PimmÃÔ & Hendricks in a shaker with ice. Shake well and strain over ice in a tall glass. Top with ginger beer and garnish with a cucumber stick and mint leaf.
Dram Tree Rum Swizzle1 1/2 oz. Bacardi Superior White Rum1/2 oz. Falenum1/2 oz. Roses Lime JuiceCombinethe rum wit the falernum and lime juice in a shaker with ice. Shake well, strain and serve in a rocks glass over one large rock. Garnish with a candied lime twist.
Cocktails & Conversations
by Joel Finsel
As 2004 Rising Star Mixologist Joel Finsel muses in the introduction
to Cocktails & Conversations, the role of bartender extends far
beyond a steady grip over the cocktail shaker. As Finsel puts it, he is
a “friend, therapist, peace-maker, peeping Tom [sic], simultaneously
a hired ear, and the last life raft one can hope to cling before drifting off
into the sea of total inebriation.” And during his years behind the bar at
Philadelphia’s Astral Plane, Finsel has performed all these duties dili-
gently. But now he’s taken on an additional role, that of pseudo bar
historian. Readers get a barfly’s point of view as Finsel records the
bizarre encounters and ridiculous stories of colorful clientele and
kitchen staff in a collection of fictional vignettes inspired by true events.
Scattered between these tales are short essays on the basic spirits of
the craft (bourbon, cognac, gin, vodka, tequila, rum, scotch, & absinthe)
as well as a few classic recipes for each.
The emphasis of Cocktails & Conversations is definitely more on
conversation than cocktail. This is not an innovative recipe book (drinks
edge on the side of tradition and simplicity), nor will you find an academic
tract on the delicate balance of sweetness, bitterness, and acidity. But
what you will sense is how much the bar is like the theater: conflict,
romance, comedy, and tragedy spill from the stools like so many tipped
over pint glasses. Cast members are all walk-ons and the dialogue is
all improvised, although Finsel discloses that it’s a work of fiction based
on a real place.
A preview of the scenes: the Astral Plane publicist’s near run-in with Vivien
Leigh, the main man meeting tempting female customers, the history of gin
presented by a precariously sane woman from the street, and the excitement
of being chosen by StarChefs.com as the 2004 Philadelphia Rising Stars
Mixologist (we can confirm the last event is nonfictional). In a rambling,
casual style, Finsel meanders from one story to the next, loosely covering
his tenure at the restaurant from hiring to his last night. And like a stand-up
comedy routine or the latest Will Ferrell movie, this memoir is best enjoyed
with a drink in hand.
Wish Upon a Star:
Astral Plane Owner Reed Ray
Apaghian waited six months for
the stars to align before opening
the restaurant. He also asked
Finsel for his astrological sign
before agreeing to hire him as
Finsel provides useful tidbits for
novices to earn their bartending
stripes, including eight steps to
tasting wine and a discussion
of Cognac vintages.
Interviewing other bartenders has been a wonderful way to expand my own knowledge of the craft. This month, Beer Professor Megan Loux makes her debut in glossy print.