Tell me a little bit about how you got into bartending.
Blackbird was a kind of happy coincidence.
I got into bartending around almost 15 years ago. Back home in Scotland, when I was studying at the University I started working at a bar called Bloody Marys in the middle of Glasgow - it was one of the first cocktail bars in there. And I had the pleasure of working with a lot of renowned bartenders, which was a real pleasure and gave me a love of the craft of the industry.
How did you get involved with Blackbird?
Blackbird was a kind of happy coincidence. I was in Brickell the day they opened and I had heard about it and I walked in and I fell in love with the place instantly. I liked the fact that they didn't take themselves too seriously with all the the birdy stuff. I sat reading ornithology books for like an hour the first time I went in. We have a bookcase full of bird books and I thought it was funny that a bar would have a book case full of ornithology books, so I assumed it was some kind of a joke. But no, it was just full of ornithology books so I sat and read them for an hour or so. And then I, I basically just asked to work there. And I started bartending, and the opening management team was leaving so I ended up taking over the bar after a few months.
What would you say it's the busiest day and the busiest time at the bar?
Definitely Friday because we're busy for the longest period of time. Happy hour can be very busy. We have Spam Allstars playing every Friday night at 8 p.m. so it tends to be busy. That bridges through from happy hour right through the rest of the night. My favorite thing if I was there as a customer would would totally be happy hour.
What time does happy hour start?
There's always a reason to come and check it out.
Happy hour is every day until 8 o'clock. We open at 5 p.m. in the weekends and 3 p.m. during the week. It's two for one happy hour, we give you a poker chip for every drink you buy until 8 o'clock and you can always use the chips whenever. You can come in the middle of a busy Saturday night and spend them if you want.
The thing is that we're lots of different things.... Some people come one day and maybe they're not a huge fun of what we're doing that day but we always have different events, different kinds of music, different things going on. There's always a reason to come and check it out.
Who are some of your favorite customers?
I just like fun people, people who come here to really have fun.
I really enjoy having people who .... I like industry staff coming in.... I do enjoy a lot of bartenders and industry staff coming in just because we share a lot of experiences and it's good fun to have them here. I like the fact that we're kind of a haven for industry staff. Other than that, I just like fun people, people who come here to really have fun. Not people who come here because their friends told them they should or people who come here because they want to be seen somewhere. People that come here because they want to have fun. And that's what we're all about.
Are there any ingredients or spirits that you are especially excited to be working with lately?
The freshest available to us. We have our own garden, we make our own cordials. We just try to use the freshest of ingredients available to us. Right now we're really into doing the bottled cocktails, it's something that we just started doing. We're doing bottle-carbonated cocktails. We have a series of little cocktails we're making. For the moment we're doing a Dirty Shirley with fresh pomegranate, fresh ginger, citric acid powder, sugar and vodka.
Tell me about how you guys bottle those.
We make like a fresh mix with fresh pomegranate juice, we make a ginger syrup, add drops of citric acid powder and the vodka and then we carbonate inside a kind of homemade carbonation system and we bottle them with a very rudimentary beer bottling system.
Are there any drinks that you absolutely hate to make?
No, not as long as somebody enjoys them.
How do you cut someone off when they've had too much to drink?
The idea of being a bartender is to look after people.
The idea is to kind of be caring. The problem with spending your life getting people drunk is that people aren't necessarily the most reasonable when they get there. So to treat them as friends is always the best way. I do see quite often bartenders who are very rude to people and not very understanding of the fact that they're drunk, which is ridiculous given the fact that they just spent the last few hours getting them that way. So it's all about, the idea of being a bartender is to look after people. We kind of want to be there as part of the community and take care of people. I try my best not to let people leave with car keys when they're drinking, things like that.
I normally try and push at least around if water if they get there. If they continue to be unreasonable then there are different ways. I mean you can get more authoritative with them, but I prefer not to.
What, as a bartender, is your favorite tool?
You know what I really like? I have two silver plated tankards which my mother bought for me. They don't heat up as much when you use them to make the flaming cocktails. I mentioned it to my mother at some point and I don't know where she found them, but they're lovely.
If it's my first time at Blackbird, what would you suggest I order?
Well, I mean the most popular by you know light years is the Blackbird. And it's very refreshing, it's not too sweet, it's not too sour, it's not too strong, not too weak, I think it's a good drink for everybody. Personally, I like the — we have a drink called the Scarlet Tanager, which is fresh fruits and herbs from the garden, strawberry infused gin, a mixture of vermouth and angostura bitters, which is basically a recreation of Pimm's cup which is one of my favorite summer cocktails and given that it's pretty much always summer in Miami...
When you're not at the bar where do you like to go out for drinks?
Oh, well sadly I've got nowhere to go now that Tobacco Road is closed. There's a couple of new bars. I really like Better Days that just opened up in Brickell - It's a nice little lounge place and it reminds me a lot of when we started Blackbird. Other than that, I like The Regent and the Broken Shaker. Finka's nice. I mean there's a huge amount of bars in Miami now that are doing really well. They've really started taking the craft very seriously in the last five years since I moved here. It's great - you're really not struggling for a place to get a cocktail whereas when I first moved here there was barely a place where I'd order a cocktail.