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The Edison's Drink Man Explains His Bartender Exchange Program

The Radio Room at The Edison is host to the most unique cocktail program around: every month, Aidan Demarest, The Edison's director of beverages and spirits, along with lead barman Marcos Tello, invites mixologists from across the country to spend a night behind their bar, pouring up cocktails created expressly for the event and, to Demarest's amusement, struggling to keep up with the volume. Over a bartender's breakfast of coffee, water, and sunglasses, Demarest explained how this bartender exchange program got started.

Squid Ink: So have you been with The Edison since they opened?

Aidan Demarest: No. I first came downtown as a GM with Seven Grand and then I went over to The Doheny. The Edison had been open a while but there was no bar program and Andrew Meierin stole me away to create one. I hated the place at first but I said if we could make a cocktail program happen in this massive place, it would be the coolest bar in the world.

SI: How did you manage to change over what was essentially a nightclub into a respected cocktail bar?

AD: From nine to five every day, for six weeks Marcos and I trained our staff, most of whom had never muddled a fucking thing in their life. A lot of 'em flipped out and others quit, customers turned on us; what happened to my Apple Martini? Why are the glasses so small? Who the fuck do you guys think you are? I mean I went from bars that cared about every little detail to a staff that didn't give a shit. We had to retrain the people and the customers.

SI: What was the inspiration for The Radio Room?

AD: Marcos and I were slowly changing things behind the scenes, but we hadn't rolled anything out yet. I started asking Damian (The Roger Room) and Eric (The Varnish) and Vincenzo (Copa d'Oro) to come down and play. All three of them had places opening in the next six months so they were all magically in limbo. I thought of it as Advanced Swim Class: let's have one night, with the best bartenders in town so we can make the kind of drinks we really want.

The guest bartender program immediately resonated with me and I was traveling a lot at the time and kept inviting people down. When I was up in San Francisco at Bourbon and Branch, I realized that I didn't have to just have the guys from across town guest bartender, I could have these guys, and the liquor brands were stoked because it doubled their market.

SI: So different brands sponsor the night?

AD: In a really mellow way, but yes, we're primarily using one house's products. I let the guys make whatever they want, but I say, "Keep in mind your hotel and airfare were paid for by these guys, whoever it may be." The Radio Room is an incredible marketing tool in that it promotes a brand in three cities, it promotes my bar in three cities and it promotes the bartenders in three cities so everyone involved gets that much more exposure. What happens at Radio Room is really the smallest denominator out of the machine. Misty and John (of Drink in Boston) were telling me "We did eight magazine articles since we did your thing."

SI: Do you feel that bartenders are staring to reach audiences like chefs have?

AD: Absolutely. Every bar is set up like a stage. It's the center of the room. It can't help but go that way and in this economic time, people need incentives to go to any bar and a rock star bartender brings it.

SI: So what's next?

AD: Flipping out our staff for an even exchange, although most cocktail bars are these tiny gems and I gotta tell you, I love to watch the bartenders from a place like Milk & Honey struggle with the volume of The Edison. They always come in like (throwing up his hands), and twenty minutes into it they say, "Are you gonna stop walking people down the stairs?" The first guy that did The Radio Room was Erick Castro (of Bourbon and Branch) and afterwards he told me, "I made a lotta bad drinks tonight. I made a lotta good ones, but I made a lotta bad ones."

We have a giant Radio Room planned for November that'll be a fundraiser for the USBG (United States Bartending Guild) and the American Museum of Cocktails, and for the September 29th Radio Room, we have John Lermayer from The Delano in Miami and Jeffrey Morgenthal from The Ace Hotel in Portland.

SI: What's the most exciting to you about The Radio Room?

AD: I love the collaboration, I love the team spirit and I love getting covered in paint and dancing on top of the bar.

SI: What?

AD: Yeah.