Friday, March 7, 2008

Mixologist: Charles Joly

Charles is an accomplished mixologist, but also an avid competitor and a true renaissance man. Cocktails, spirits, athletics, music, woodworking and flowers all play a part in Charles’ life, and he’s done a wide range of things in his 31 years.

Today, Charles is the Chief Mixologist at The Drawing Room at Le Passage, and the Executive General Manager for Three Headed Productions. Three Headed owns a variety of clubs, bars and restaurants in Chicago (and elsewhere), and Charles oversees the operations at their venues. Historically, he has also handled expansions and new venues, from concept development through opening day.

Stumbling into the Bar Business
Charles didn’t in
tend to be in the bar business. In fact, he was a pre-veterinary medicine major in college, and intended to go on to become a veterinarian. His first job in a bar came about by accident; he was out partying at Crobar after college with a buddy and ended up filling out an application in the back room for a job. He needed a job and it sounded fun at the time, so he went for it without too much thought. At such a high-volume nightclub, Charles was thrown into the fire right away, first as a busboy for a couple of days, then as a bar back and bartender.

Over time, Charles’ career interests evolved. He has always been into music, and played in a punk band for many years. After college, he tried a variety of jobs, but always had a nighttime bartending gig and was pursuing music on the side. He came to a point where he decided he had to choose and go for something more permanent rather than dabbling in a variety of things, so he accepted a full-time management role with Three Headed. In the end, he decided that the service industry was the right place for him – he loves seeing someone happy and enjoying something new.

Mixology Obsession Takes Over
A light went on in Charles’ head when he met Bridget Albert a year and a half ago. He’d been working in the bar business for nine years by then and was well versed in developing concepts, building new bars, and running them profitably. Yet she managed to make a tremendous impression on him when she walked into Cans that fateful day. Charles immediately realized that she was the real deal – she knew mixology and could mentor and teach others to raise their level of skill and art behind the bar.

Working with Bridget really changed Charles’ view of the bartender and what was possible with a beverage program, and he’s spent the last year and a half intensively studying the classics and working with new cocktail recipes and flavors. Shortly after meeting her, he enrolled in the Academy of Spirits, and has been an active member of the Illinois Chapter of the US Bartending Guild (aka USBG) ever since.

Creating a Culinary Cocktail Lounge
Right now, Charles spends most of his time at the Drawing Room, where he was responsible for developing the beverage program and menu. Open since November 2007, the Drawing Room is unlike any other cocktail lounge in
Chicago (and I can speak from personal experience). Charles has Debbie Peek and Lynn House on his mixology team, both highly regarded (and very accomplished) mixologists in their own right (navigate to their bios here). Along with a freshly prepared drink made tableside using house-made syrups and juices, you’ll also hear about the history and development of your cocktail. Some menu choices are cherished classics, like the Manhattan or French 75, while others are original creations by members of the Drawing Room mixology team. Charles worked closely with Bridget in developing the menu, and especially the tableside bar carts, to ensure a smooth experience for everyone.

It’s an ambitious concept, one that had not been tried before, but Charles reports that it is going very well. Of course they get the occasional person who doesn't understand what they're doing (one notable quote from a recent guest - "you can't use a jigger on Rush Street, you won't be open very long doing that"), but most patrons are excited to be there and to learn more about great cocktails.

Avid Competitor and Master of Many Things
Charles thrives on competition, and really enjoys preparing for and competing in the variety of cocktail competitions offered both through the USBG and various spirits suppliers. He’s at work on entries for three different competitions right now, and enjoys the challenge and focus required to create a truly unique, original cocktail.

Outside of bartending, Charles enjoys woodworking – he has his own lathe and makes muddlers, among other things. He’s also an athlete and enjoys competing in triathlons these days – he completed his first one last year in Memphis. He is also in the process of building his first home, which is taking a bit longer than he had hoped.

Some fun facts about Charles – although he was in a punk band (guitar & vocals), he loves swing jazz music too. He also has a knack for decorating, perhaps developed during the few years he spent working at a flower shop after college (American Romeo on Clark, although its not there anymore), where he started as a delivery person but grew into a designer and event planner.

For Charles, life is about having a focus, and actually doing something you’re passionate about – "you only get one shot, so make the most of it." He works best under pressure and with deadlines, so he creates those for himself. He enjoys a good challenge and trying new things, both professionally and personally.

Random Fast Facts

  • Find him: Usually at the Drawing Room, open W-Su from 4 pm onward; of course Debbie or Lynn can certainly make you a fantastic drink there too
  • Currently playing with: Rye whiskey (Rittenhouse 21 for sipping, especially if someone else is buying; 100 proof Rittenhouse and Templeton for cocktails); anise-based spirits (Absinthe, pastis, etc. for an upcoming absinthe dinner); and herbs and savory cocktails, while trying not to be too esoteric
  • Test Drink: If he doesn’t know the bartender, he orders a Makers & water or rye & water, depending on availability. If he wants to take a chance, he’ll order a Manhattan
  • On a Deserted Island: Aromatic bitters (current fave is Fee Brothers), lime press and limes, good bourbon (Elijah Craig 18, Makers Mark)
  • What You Should Order at his Bar: the Manhattan – it’s a great recipe, and he gets lots of compliments on it

Parting Words and a Recent Prize-Winning Recipe

Charles is extremely proud to be part of the group that is "raising the bar" in Chicago. He’s a die-hard Chicagoan, and is thrilled to be working with the other very talented people who are committed to this movement in the Midwest.

The Nooner, by Charles Joly
½ tbsp freshly grated ginger
¼ oz Maple Syrup
¾ oz Navan
2 oz Makers Mark
3 dashes orange bitters, over top of completed cocktail
Coupe glass

Combine all ingredients in mixing glass, put ice in your tin, and shake. Double strain through sieve into chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a flamed orange peel – place peel up in glass and drop 3 dashes of orange bitters on top. If made with Templeton Rye instead, it’s a 12:15.

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