Why Everybody Should Have This Bartender's Approach to Life
“I just want to change the people’s lives that I come in contact with to feel better about themselves, and the world as a whole.”
You know how it goes… you’re visiting a new place, sort of wandering the streets trying to find the “perfect” spot to make wonderful vacation memories. So you walk… and walk… past a lot of cool places, but they all sort of blend together after awhile. Inevitably, you get to the point where you really don’t care where you go, you just want to stop walking.
Well, this happened to me while visiting Encinitas, California this summer, and I’m so glad my geographer husband used his mapping abilities to find us a restaurant near the beach with ocean views. Though, in all honesty, I don’t even really remember a view that night, or even what the restaurant or bar looked like.
Because here’s the deal. Sometimes it’s not the PLACE that matters, but rather the PEOPLE who work in that place. Certain people just naturally bring a special energy to a place that makes guests feel right at home from the get-go. These are the experiences we remember. I never really stopped to think of this before, until that Friday night when Anthony Foley took care of us.
Who is Anthony Foley?
Anthony is Southern California based bartender who left a successful 9-to-5 in order to follow his true passion of serving people in the hospitality industry. His story initially goes back to San Francisco State, where he majored in geography with an emphasis in food and agriculture. Upon graduation, he couldn’t find a sustainable job in this field, but did find one in CBD sales and actually built quite a good life for himself. But despite having “all of the boxes checked” (home, car, lifestyle), something was missing. He realized he wasn’t following his true passion, and deep down knew he couldn’t continue living a life that wasn’t truly his, so he did some soul searching. He spent some time in LA working for his aunt and uncle in the casting industry.
While this wasn’t quite “it” either, he realized that the creative part of that job was part of what he was missing/seeking. This was a start. He then realized what he wanted to do was work in the hospitality industry, a path he had been inadvertently been following his entire life. Born into an Italian family, Anthony remembers growing up with food, lots of it, and sharing it with friends and neighbors. He took this with him to college, where he’d make a few bucks by cooking for his roommates. He also bartended. Whatever the case, he liked serving people and making them feel better.
During his soul-searching period, it hit him that he wanted to return to his roots and start making things for people again. This time, not food, but drinks. Enter… the hospitality industry… behind the bar, where we found him that night.
A night with Anthony, Part 1
We didn’t know all of this when we walked in the bar that night. We just thought we were in for an ordinary Friday night experience. When we sat down, Anthony was hard at work behind the bar. But not a hard at work “oh we’re so slammed, this is nutz” kind of deal. More like an, “it’s crazy busy, but I’m on FIRE and love what I’m doing” kind of thing. While he worked his magic, a great playlist was going in the background, and Anthony was clearly having fun with his fellow bartender Chris. You could tell these guys were great friends, (and great people for that matter) almost immediately - the kind of people who brought good energy wherever they went. As my husband and I settled into the bar, Anthony took our order, and even though the place was packed, he made us feel like we were his only customers, almost like old friends. Since I’m more of a wino than a beer or drink kinda gal, I asked to see the wine list. My husband was up for something different, yet wasn’t sure quite what. Anthony immediately started asking him what he usually liked, what flavors he preferred, etc. You could tell he was thinking about each answer, and considering drink possibilities to concoct. He then gave my husband a drink menu… but this wasn’t your mom and pop’s run - of - the - mill offering.
Nope. This menu was… well, crafty… in its clever drink names and descriptions. There was something about it that made it feel hip and different, yet not in a pretentious or “wanna be” kind of way. Anthony explained to us that he had created this menu during first month at that bar, and it was obvious that it had been carefully and purposely made. According to Anthony, when he came on board, the place “Had no craft cocktails, just your standard dive bar fare. Rose's grenadine/lime juice, processed sweet-n-sour mix, Jack and Coke, boxed piña coladas, etc.” That’s until Anthony proposed his idea - Beach Craft. Beach Craft was a collection high quality, well made drinks without the pretentiousness associated with a lot of the craft cocktail culture. Anthony wanted to offer patrons the ability to walk from the beach and get a craft cocktail experience unlike anything they had experienced. In a nutshell, he wanted to offer true hospitality in the form of an amazing, well made cocktail. The owners loved it, and gave him the go ahead to run with it.
Anthony did… and then some. He built the menu and secured everything he needed to start creating - from the bar equipment to the menu design to the cocktails themselves. But Anthony wanted to make it even bigger than just a menu with some great drinks. He also wanted build a community among the local bartenders and people in the industry… by including their specialty cocktails on the menu. He wanted to give other bartenders a shout - out for their contributions, and share their great drinks with patrons of his bar. How’s that for bringing people together!?
My husband chose a drink from the menu, Anthony’s version of a traditional Trader Vic Mai Tai. He called it Tiki - Tony’s Mai Tai, and crafted it with Cruzan White Rum, Mt Gay Eclipse Rum, house made Oregeat (a traditional Polynesian sweetner made from almonds), fresh lime juice, and his own special twist… a bit of Amaro Averna (an Italian amaro that Anthony says “rounds out the rum and fresh lime to give the drink a bit o’ “funkiness”). As my husband was enjoying this delightful concoction (I tried it too, and immediately regretted my standard pinot order), a convo about all things run, tiki, and amaro ensued. Soon, Anthony was bringing out books about cocktails from around the world, and sharing his knowledge with us about the inner workings of each drink and how the geography of its origins came into play with its success. Clearly, this guy knew his stuff, and even more clearly… he was passionate about creating an experience for us.
The night could’ve ended there, but as we stayed on, we told Anthony about our recent trip to Cuba and our visit to Hemingway’s haunts and the drinks served there. While we were talking, the wheels were turning in Anthony’s head. He asked us if we’d still be in the area the next night. We told him we would. He invited us back for a cocktail flight he was going to craft, based on what we’d told him about Cuba and our taste preferences. Now, note that neither my husband nor myself are really big cocktail drinkers, and honestly I’ve never had a craft cocktail flight.
But here was this super nice guy asking us to come back for a personalized experience. Things like that don’t happen every day. We were in.
A night with Anthony, Part 2
We returned the next night to one of the most interesting, delicious “flight” experiences I’ve ever had. It was even busier that night in the bar, but he still made us feel like we were his only customers, while juggling probably about 50 other things. Our flight experience started with a sampling of daiquiris, Scorpion, and Painkiller variations. We then moved on to a few different pallet cleansers, ranging from the sweet side (Montenegro & Averna) to the middle of the road (Cynar), to the extreme bitter (Fernet). Then, Anthony combined those amaros with ingredients to create something entirely different. Anthony explained, “Combining the amaros a few different ways illustrates how the whole can be more than the some of its parts, and how flexible alcohol can be, much akin to food and cooking.”
Also with Anthony that night was his good friend Chris, someone he brought on to work with at the bar. They clearly had a good thing going, as Anthony told us that working with Chris allowed him to focus on the customers while Chris took care of other things. He and Chris are on the same wave length, something that Anthony appreciates, as respect and chemistry are important in any team he’s a part of. As he says, “I want to make sure whoever I’m working with knows I’m part of a team. It’s not just a ‘me’ thing…”
As we walked back to our Air B-n-B that night, we talked about what a truly memorable night it was… not just for the drinks, but for an “in your face” example of what following one’s passion looks like. Anthony said “nope” to a career that wasn’t right for him, and found something that made him happy to be at work. As his customers, we felt his good vibes 100%.
I followed up with Anthony a few weeks after we returned home. He shared a bit more of his story and had some great philosophies and quotes that I think we all can take to heart… whether we’re thinking of making a big career change, or just trying to make more sense of this thing called life.
Anthony’s thoughts on the definition of success…
“The people who maybe aren’t the most successful on paper, but are the most happy, are people that realize that every aspect of life is a service. I try to treat every aspect of my life like it’s a relationship. Whether it’s a signifiant other, family, work, or friends… every relationship takes patience and work on both parts. Nothing worth having is easy. It can be easy if you’re apathetic, but the things that truly matter at the end of the day make you think … all take time.”
Anthony’s book tips…
For any home enthusiast or beginning bartender looking to hone their craft or educate themselves, Anthony recommends The Bar Book by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, The Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan, and Meehan’s Bartender Manual by Jim Meehan. Danny Meyers’ Setting the Table and Ken Blanchard’s Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results were, and still are, fundamental to his approach of hospitality and life in general. Anthony also has a must read for anyone, no matter what… Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. “Nothing I say can do it justice. Seriously, just read it."
Anthony’s thoughts on what makes a good team at work…
“Authentic means a lot. People recognize authenticity, and want to be around it. Also, what makes people come back to a place is when they can tell that the employees truly love their jobs and get along with each other. If I went to a car mechanic and I could tell he really, really liked cars. I would go back. There’s something about that type of person… that makes me feel good. My advice is to surround yourself with employees that you would like to be be around. This is true in every industry.”
Anthony’s advice from behind the bar…
A sentiment Anthony truly believes in can be accredited to Steve Olson, who once told bar legend Jim Meehan, “People who gravitate toward careers in service as having a 'sick need' to make other people happy.” Anthony says, “It’s almost a selfish act because serving other people makes me internally happy, so it’s a self - serving interest in that regard, but it comes full circle to those cliches and adages we are taught growing up that you almost take for granted, like treat others how you want to be treated. The golden rule is how I live my life. There’s something to taking pride and gratitude in making others feel better."
Anthony’s future plans…
“Looking at the big picture… I want to be able to provide myself, and eventually a family, an affordable lifestyle. I’m not sure if this means if I’m a bartender, restaurant owner, or a consultant….whatever it is, I want to be able to impact the people that I come in contact with. Not everyone in the world. It’d be nice to be able to know that our convo wasn’t just candy, it was substantial. It was something real. Bottom line, I just want to change the people’s lives that I come in contact with to feel better about themselves, and the world as a whole.”
What a great sentiment to end with… cheers to you, Anthony!
Thanks for making the world a better place, one delicious drink at a time.