For our monthly series “Meet The Kitchen Family,” we sat down with Dustin Lawlor from The Kitchen Denver to get to know him a bit better. Here’s what he had to say:
Are you a mixologist?
What’s the difference?
First and foremost, my job is hospitality. When I think mixologist, I think of someone focusing on a cocktail and a spirits list who doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the guest. They’re the person coming up with the cocktails. I don’t look down on anyone who calls themselves that, but I prefer to be called a bartender.
How did you get into bartending?
I was working as a backwait at Root Down in the Highlands. I started working under Anika Zappe, who was a bar manager at the time. I’d come in on my day off and work with her during happy hour. She taught me classic cocktails, and I got wrapped up in their history, specifically cocktails in the United States. I ended up taking a certification course called BarSmarts, which specifically focuses on twenty-five classic cocktails. That’s kind of where I started, and I guess I just gravitated that way. Most of the cocktails on our menu, or at least the ones that I make, are based off of the classics. You start there, and work off that.
The tried and true?
Yeah. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
When it comes to hospitality, describe your personal style?
I have a “let the guest guide me” style of hospitality. In this restaurant, lunch service is business oriented. Guests don’t necessarily care to be interrupted. On a Friday or Saturday night, you may get the younger couple on a third date. One of them wants to show off what they know about gin. From there you let them guide you. I think that’s important in any restaurant, but here in particular it’s something that’s embraced a lot more, which I enjoy.
Have you visited The Boulder restaurants?
I’ve actually only been once. I had dinner with my girlfriend and her mom, and her mom’s fiancé. It was great.
How do The Kitchen Boulder and The Kitchen Denver compare?
The core idea is very much the same. I think the sheer size of The Kitchen Denver makes a big difference from the time you walk in the door. We definitely feel more fast paced. We are because we have to be… to keep up with the size of this place, but we focus on the same principles.
Tell me about one of your greatest nights on the floor?
Most recently on New Year’s Eve, all of our food was on time and all of our drinks were beautiful. We had a full bar all night, which is something that isn’t so common on a prix fix menu. Everything went smoothly and it was great. It was one of those nights that felt perfect. Everything clicked. I’m lucky to say that I have a lot of nights like that here. That balance of being busy, and feeling pushed to work harder than normal, and have everything fall in line the way that it’s supposed to. That’s my ideal situation. I try to keep pushing that as far as I can.
It sounds like you take a lot of pride in your team?
Absolutely. You’re only as strong as your weakest link. Everybody says that, but it’s really true. These guys work hard. They’re on their feet, just like our servers, nine hours a day. I really appreciate the work they put in here. A lot of them have never been a bartender, or they have come in with limited bartending experience and have taken the time to learn our way of doing things. To go beyond that by doing BarSmarts, or other things outside of work that they don’t necessarily have to do, to be better at their job is something I’m grateful for.
What haven’t I asked?
I guess something that’s kind of interesting, and something that’s new to me, is that I quit drinking a year ago. I still taste, but I think it sometimes surprises guests. It might make them second guess what I’m doing back there behind the bar. I like to think that I still make great cocktails. I’m definitely a lot more focused now, specifically on the things that I want, and the steps I need to take to get those things I want are a lot clearer.
Interview and Photo of Dustin Lawlor by Veronika Sprinkel Ink 2015.