“I’m kind of weird,” says Ryan Herzog over drinks at Prospect Heights bar Sweet Polly, where he works three shifts a week. Whereas most bartenders start their careers making drinks and then go on to work for liquor brands, he only got behind the bar for the first time three years ago. “I was working for brands first, but being surrounded by a bunch of friends who are really creative and doing awesome things, that inspired me to get behind the bar,” he says.
Herzog, who’s from Pleasanton, California (“As it sounds, it’s very pleasant”), is now behind the stick most of time—and serving as the ambassador for our Edible Collective. He studied agricultural business in college at Cal Poly, with a plan to go into real estate as a route to owning a restaurant, but moved to New York City in 2013 right after college. His first gig was at Middle Branch. “I was able to impress Lucinda Sterling enough to convince her to train me, and it gave me a good, strong foundation,” he says.
The creative and performance aspects of the job are what he loves most. “There are a lot of creative and artsy folks who do this work, and when you’re behind the stick, it’s like you’re on stage,” he says. “For me, the creative aspect doesn’t happen as much on the fly—I’m still working on building that skill—but when I have time to think about what cocktails I want to make, I enjoy that very much.”
He loves whiskey, especially, for its diversity and history—pointing to the Gaelic word it derives from, uisce beatha, which came from the Latin aqua vitae, meaning “water of life.” “Whiskey literally means ‘water of life,'” he says, with clear enthusiasm.
For a taste of that enthusiasm and the water of life, visit Ryan at Sweet Polly this weekend or follow him on Instagram, @drifterpalate.
Join the Edible Collective and you’ll be joining the Edible Community. The Collective is made up of the people who make what we eat and drink.
The Collective‘s goal is to create a culture of collaboration up and down the food and drink chain. Think of it as a roundtable where bartenders, chefs, makers and farmers share ideas, education, enlighten and enhance skills.