Issue 28

Bar Chat: An Interview with Sam Bloomer at The Side Door

Bar Chat: An Interview with Sam Bloomer at The Side Door

Bar Chat represents my ongoing efforts to shed some well-deserved light on the creative, innovative work being done by some of the area’s top bartenders & mixologists. The following is taken from an interview I conducted recently with The Side Door’s Sam Bloomer.

FSM: How do you go about engaging new customers who may not be familiar with what the Side Door is all about?

Sam: We definitely try to challenge peoples’ perceptions, and it’s great to see that sometimes we do. Sometimes it’s through shared knowledge or letting people try things. We let them know that sometimes what they’ve asked for isn’t necessarily the best thing out there and they can have something better. That comes from having better product availability and a really good bar staff that can tell you about those things. When someone orders say, a Bud Light for example, we have Weihenstephan in bottles, which is a great beer from the oldest brewery in the world (established in 1040), so we try to change their minds and get them to like better things – sort of changing the culture one person at a time.

FSM: And what’s your success rate been in terms of getting new customers won over to your way of doing things?

Sam: I’d say we’re successful more often than not. Probably 85 to 90%, because people see that we really put heart and soul into it. People appreciate the small things we do that they wouldn’t necessarily think about otherwise. We try to accommodate people and let them know why we don’t have certain things and that what we have is comparable and possibly even better, but some people are really stubborn about what they want to drink. They drink what they drink, and they will not accept anything else. People who are willing to try though, are definitely happy they did.

FSM: What are some of your other goals regarding the customer experience at The Side Door?

Sam: We try to do things that are ‘great’ – things that are done really, really well. We try to create a relaxing, cozy, and inviting environment for everyone to come and enjoy something nice. We like to be not necessarily on the cutting edge of bartending, but doing things that are a little different. We describe ourselves as the Willy Wonkas of bartending. We see things that are weird and we want to do something with them. We try very hard to do things that no one else is doing, which sometimes is really hard.

I go to other bars and restaurants, and look online to get an idea of what other people are doing so that we don’t do those things. We do classic mixology highlights – old school drinks, old school methods – and as close to the old school liquors as we can possibly get to make them, but we also want to do different things, things that we want to do. Like taking some of those old school preparations and revamping them for the modern era by using things that are available to us now that weren’t necessarily available back then. One of the great things about living in Nebraska is that there’s always something fresh and local to use, which we want to be on the cutting edge of.

I like eating fresh, local things, so I want to drink fresh, local things. I don’t want mint that’s been on a truck for four days and sitting in a warehouse cooler somewhere for a week and a half before it gets to me; I want mint that I buy from a farmer’s market that was picked yesterday. I want to make people happy, make them healthy, make them comfortable, and do things that nobody else is doing – and to blow peoples’ minds by doing it.

FSM: By defying convention, you run the risk of alienating some cocktail purists. Is it a conscious decision on your part to go with your instincts and not be hemmed in by conventional classic cocktail wisdom?

Sam: Yeah, we do have a lot of people who come in that know cocktails really well, so they’ll come in and they’re like, “That’s not Professor Jerry Thomas’s whiskey smash”, and I’m like, “No, I know. I realize that. I read Imbibe too”. But we’re trying to do things that are a little different and maybe even a little better.

We try things a lot before we put them on the menu. We play around with them a lot too, and sometimes we find that the recipes that are out there aren’t always the ‘best’ ones. There are more things available now that you can use and what they had then depended on where they were, but now we can get things from around the world in just a couple days, or things we can get in Nebraska that they couldn’t get in say, New Orleans when they were inventing some of these drinks. There’s a lot of room to play around with it. There are some cocktails where I like to stick as close to the original recipe as possible because they are amazing, but there aren’t a lot of cocktails we do that with.

FSM: Steve Jamrozy, the owner of The Side Door, has a bit of a reputation for not necessarily letting what other people think dictate or unduly influence his actions. It sounds like this mindset carries over to the bar.

Sam: Definitely. We’re still very nice, but we don’t take crap from anyone and we really don’t care what people think. If you come in and we don’t have what you want and you leave, well then it probably wasn’t the place for you. We’re not going to let it bother us. It’s really nice to work in that environment. If we’re not given respect, we don’t have to give respect back to people just because they’re the customer. There aren’t a lot of rules – hardly any, actually. We like that kind of fluidity. Steve is the kind of person who knows that creativity flourishes when it’s not stomped out.

Dan Crowell

Dan Crowell

Dan Crowell, cocktail enthusiast and self-avowed ‘spirits nerd’, is the Luxury Brands Specialist for Sterling Distributing Company in Omaha. He talks incessantly (even occasionally to other people) about the virtues of what he calls ‘investigative imbibement’. An eternally fascinated student of the distillers’ art, he encourages any like-minded individuals to engage him in spirited discussion at http://libationassociation.blogspot.com


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