DISCLOSURE: The author is currently a business partner with Ryan Maybee in the Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival.
If someone asks me how I got into the profession of bartending – or even how I got to where I am today in video production – I can’t tell my story without mentioning Ryan Maybee’s name. I met Ryan in late 2008, just as he was closing in on opening this new pre-prohibition style speakeasy in Kansas City called Manifesto. A few years earlier, I had experienced what I like to call my “cocktail epiphany” (aka I visited Pegu Club in NYC) – and this new bar was DEFINITELY the place I wanted, not just to drink at, but also to work and learn at. Ryan’s influence on not just my philosophy of bartending, but also on my own professional trajectory in life has been pretty remarkable – and I know I could say that for others in the city as well. Ryan’s a great mentor, and an even more valued friend. To be honest, I could dedicate an entire post just to my own experience working / learning from him – but I digress.
Ryan has been bartending for 14 years, and currently owns / operates / consults on several concepts in the Kansas City area (and soon to be beyond). He’s recently completed not only the Beverage Alcohol Resource 5-day, but has also gone on to complete their Masters level program which can be considered akin to the Court of Master Sommeliers. He also co-founded the Greater Kansas City Bartending Competition in 2007 with Doug Frost, which has now evolved into the Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival.
Ryan was also recently named Imbibe Magazine‘s 2013 Bartender of the Year – and as such, I thought it would be a great opportunity to sit down and chat with him about some of the essentials of the industry: where did you start, why do you do what you do, what do you look for in a bartender, what resources would you recommend, etc. In doing so, I realized there was a LOT more information than I initially anticipated – this was originally just going to be a single post, but the content was so good and dense that I had to explore it further… So… I bring you the FIRST installment of “Minutes with Maybee”.
In this piece, Ryan sits down and discusses his thoughts about the accolade of being named “Bartender of the Year,” and – more importantly – his philosophy towards bartending, and what he looks for in identifying a good bartender.
First and foremost – a BIG “Thank You” to local KC group Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle for allowing me to use their music for the video. You can check out more of their stuff online here - http://eddiemooreandtheoutercircle.bandcamp.com/ ; and the track used in the video is “Lesson”.
Ryan’s definitely stayed his course on the “concept” of a good bartender – I can attest to that from over the years I’ve known him. He always puts hospitality first, and strongly encourages all of his staff to do the same. It always amazes me how much our industry can move forward simply by looking to the past for great cocktail ideas and recipes, and yet at times can totally overlook some of the essentials right in front of us – like the guest. First and foremost, it doesn’t matter our opinions on the beverage they choose to order, what matters is our ability to make them feel like a guest in our bars, and if, in the process, we help them to find some new thing they love – then great. If not, and they wind up ordering their staple beverage of choice – then also great! Hopefully they’ll walk away remembering something unique about the experience as a whole, and maybe they’ll walk back in another time interested to try something new and different.
If nothing else, that’s what I personally learned the most from working at Manifesto, and under Ryan. While, yes, we were slinging some pretty serious (imho) cocktails, ultimately what really mattered was the experience of our guests, and our ability to help facilitate whatever that experience needed to be. Hospitality first. Not going to lie, there were definitely times I was super frustrated by the fact that I had a guest who was asking me for just a “gin & tonic” or a “vodka & cranberry” – didn’t they know we’re a cocktail bar? But then I’d take a step back, and remember I too once loved those types of drinks, so how can I make it a unique experience? So perhaps it’s making a Gin & Tonic with some housemade tonic, or a unique brand… have you tried it with muddled lime peel? And for that vodka cranberry, perhaps you’d like it with fresh cranberries and sweetened with some honey? No? Not a problem, let me grab the cranberry juice.
I had more quality interactions, and (hopefully!) built more long-time guests because of the little things: by catering to their needs, not my own desires. And that guest that really wanted the standard cranberry juice? The next time, they wanted to try it my way.
The photo of Ryan Maybee was shot by Brandon Cummins for the Imbibe Magazine 2013 Bartender of the Year Photo Shoot – It is used here as an example of their working relationship and to provide context of Ryan behind the bar.