What It’s Like to Have the Best Bartending Job in America

A day in the life of Pernod Ricard’s Head Mixologist

By Kirk Miller

What It’s Like to Have the Best Bartending Job in America
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10 August 2016

Welcome to Good Job, InsideHook’s deep dive into envy-inducing employment. Today, we recount a near 24-hour adventure in New Orleans with Kevin Denton, the National Mixologist for Pernod Ricard — the company behind Absolut, The Glenlivet, Beefeater and pretty much every spirit you imbibe on a weekly basis.

 

Sometimes you get an offer you simply can’t refuse.

“I think it would be fun to have you come with me for a day to get an inside look at how crazy the schedule is and what a ‘national mixologist’ does. I think it would be a fun lifestyle piece. And we could eat and drink in fun spots along the way.”

Simply put, Kevin Denton wanted InsideHook to follow him around New Orleans during Tales of the Cocktail, an annual beverage-industry bacchanal held in the Big Easy. A former bartender at NYC mainstays Tabla, Mayahuel and Hotel Delmano as well as a GM at Gramercy Terrace and the Bar Director at Wylie Dufresne’s Michelin-starred WD-50 and Alder, Denton’s resume in the booze trade is a long and colorful one.

We thought our job was fun. Kevin’s gig? He’s paid to be the life of the party.

Here’s what it’s like to walk — and eventually, stumble — through a day in his shoes.

10 A.M. Breakfast with National Account team to discuss Outback Steakhouse strategies

Noon Swing by Darden Lunch to meet the buyers

Consider this the “business part” of Kevin’s day. After pre-gaming with Kevin the night before at the Ace Hotel (from what we remember, he bought us drinks around 2 a.m.) we decide to sleep in and meet him after lunch.

 

3 P.M.Altos Street Fair at Petite Bourbon

Held at a stunning ballroom on Bourbon Street, Denton “spirits” us (ha) around the backyard as beautiful women in “Make Tequila Great Again” hats throw beads from a second-floor balcony. Within minutes, we realize Kevin knows approximately everyone. In the venue, on the street, even seemingly random passersby. “You can’t put your fingers on another industry where it’s your job to be hospitable and friendly,” he says. “My main problem is keeping up! As I get more high profile, it’s hard to always reconcile how you know a person. I feel like a jerk if I forget someone’s name.”

 


4 p.m. Elyx House

We duck into a side street for an Absolut Vodka event overseen by Ruth’s Chris’s bartenders. We drink crazy cocktails out of copper pineapples. We’re also searched as we leave. Probably a good idea: those pineapples are pretty cool.

 

5 p.m. Meauxbar

We Uber over to North Rampart Street to visit Denton’s musician friend, “Dr. Sick.” Denton, who actually performed at Tales as a musician before coming back as a bartender, is currently a member of a great “high-octane bluegrass band” called The Crooners. More free drinks ensue. Kevin seems upbeat and sober. Me? In my notebook I’ve scrawled “We just missed the Rastafarian in a tuxedo!” The meaning of that sentence will be unclear when I revisit it later.

 


5:30 p.m. Compere Lapin

We hit a new Creole/Caribbean restaurant in the Warehouse District, where Kevin is hosting what he calls a Spirited Dinner. “Instead of wine, we do six cocktail pairings,” he explains. “The drinks are kind of a trailer for the food. To execute these drinks in a timely manner takes some effort. I have to get 60 drinks out at a time, and my pet peeve is people getting their food before their drinks.”

At some point, Kevin also puts on a rabbit costume. Because why not.

 


8 p.m. Spirited Dinner    

You can try one of his cocktails here. On this evening, we do try all six.

11 p.m. “Singles Party” at Preservation Hall

On a painfully sticky night, we head to the French Quarter for jazz, single malt Scotches and single pot still whiskeys. Not necessarily hot weather drinks. We leave soon after.

But Kevin continues. Later, he tells us:

“After you left, we caught a private show at Preservation Hall, then headed off to Coyote Ugly where my former (male) barback was dancing on the bar. After he was kicked out, we decided to call it a night, around 4 a.m. Back at the Ace Hotel lobby, a handful of friends were winding down with a nightcap: Simon Ford, Cebb Moses, Maxwell Britten. A fun group. Simon and I decided to noodle around (poorly) on the piano, when our Master of Scotch, Josh Gelfand, entered the scene. He's a crack pianist, so I borrowed a guitar from the front desk and we had a late-night jam of Bowie hits … That was my favorite night of Tales. I've only been four times, but it's those spontaneous moments with the friends you don't see often enough that really make it worthwhile.”

After one more night out, we spend a week in bed, inert and queasy. Kevin lasts the rest of the week in fine fashion. Afterwards, he sends us a note:

“That was by far the best trip. I had a lot of really delicious cocktails and spirits throughout the week, but the best drink I had has to be the ice cold water out of the mini-bar at around 6 A.M. after Bartenders Breakfast.”

Good to know the man has his limits.

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