Behind the bar at Gingko Blue, Guy Streitburger is a cool and genial presence, mixing drinks with precision - but without showy fuss - as he works in tandem with his wingman, Patrick McDonald. The inaugural winner of Eater Maine's Bartender of the Year Award, Guy has played a large part in establishing Gingko Blue's reputation as a cocktail bar that is sophisticated, yet friendly and approachable. Cocktail Week seemed the perfect opportunity for a chat.
Let's get the biographical stuff out of the way first. How did you get into bartending?
I was born and raised in Portland and I worked first at Vignola and Cinque Terre (before they were combined into one restaurant). It's tough, a lot of people take a bartending class or something like that, which I think is a waste of time. I think people have to get into the business and work their way up. Get a job as a busboy or server and wait for an opportunity to get behind the bar. That's what I did.
How do you come up with ideas for cocktails?
I have Patrick, which helps a lot. You also have to drink a lot of bad drinks. I have definitely made some where the idea was way better than the outcome. We made one that literally tasted like Band Aids - the idea of the ingredients sounded fantastic.
What do you think of current cocktail trends? Are there some that you just say "no," I'm not doing that?
The more weird trends there are, it makes people want to explore and try out all kinds of new things. I'm not a fan of fruity/sweet cocktails but some customers like those drinks, so I have to be able to make them. A sour apple martini is like fingernails on a chalkboard for me and for the longest time I didn't carry anything apple so I could just say no. But now, if you really want it that badly, I'll make it.
What are your favorite cocktails? How do you decide what to recommend when people ask?
I'm a huge Manhattan and Sazarac fan, so I like putting small twists on those. And it all depends what time of night you're coming to me. Have they been out dining and want something strong, or are they going to dine and want something strong beforehand. Or, at the end of the night, something soft to send them on their way.
Is there somewhere else in town you go after you close up? What do you drink?
Everything close at 1 a.m. and when we're done, it can be anywhere from 1:30 to 3 a.m. So we'll head to Patrick's house or my house for a cocktail. I've reverted back to bourbon on the rocks - Blanton's or Jefferson rye, or in a pinch, Maker's. Otherwise, I'm a huge Amigo's fan - I'll have a pitcher of beer and hang out.
Is there anything you're doing with cocktails that's really exciting you lately? Any drinks you'd like to see go away?
I'm thinking a lot about barrel aging. Through New England Distilling (Portland-based makers of Ingenium gin and Eight Bells rum) ... they've handed out 2 1/2 liter oak barrels to some bars in Portland for aging cocktails. We've got an original Martinez cocktail (Old Tom gin, sweet vermouth, Luxardo Maraschino and orange bitters) being aged right now and I'm thinking about aging a Bijou (gin, sweet vermouth and green chartreuse). As far as what should go away, I think the espresso martini has gotten to the place where it doesn't need to be on cocktail menus any more.