Erick Castro is a bartender’s bartender. He is funny, charismatic and makes good drinks; he takes what he does seriously, but doesn’t take himself too seriously. Erick is one of the talents behind many of San Francisco’s great cocktail bars, notably Rickhouse. This bar really looked to the old bartending ways and produced a menu that respected the original families of mixed drinks, which is some feat, considering that Rickhouse is a noisy, high volume, rowdy sort of place. Producing quality cocktails for the masses is not an easy task, but Erick wanted to overcome the notion that quantity effects quality. His vision paid off when Rickhouse won “Best High Volume Cocktail Bar” at the Spirited Awards during Tales of the Cocktail in 2011.
Erick actually took a break from bartending for a while to preach the virtues of Beefeater and Plymouth Gins as a Brand Ambassador and when I got a chance to work alongside him, it was hard not to notice how much he missed being behind the stick. The day that Erick told me he was leaving to open his own bar, I was really happy because I knew that he would be returning to his natural habitat and that there would be another great bar opening soon. The new bar is in sunny San Diego and is called Polite Provisions. Instead of telling you what Erick is doing, I thought I would let him do that himself. I bellied up to his new spot and asked him some questions.
How long have you been bartending? Tell me a little bit about your past bartending gigs.
I’ve been bartending for over 11 years now. I built my chops at bars like Bourbon & Branch and Rickhouse up in San Francisco and worked as the Brand Ambassador for Plymouth and Beefeater Gins. Now, I’m living my dream of opening my own bar.
What are some of the key differences between what you have done before and Polite Provisions?
I feel like in the past I was building a monument to the cocktail through the bars I worked at, but at Polite Provisions we’re building a monument to the beverage. We’re not solely focused on creating handcrafted cocktails. We’re having fun creating our own soda pop and old-fashioned shakes and egg creams. We have a killer 46-custom tap system that houses craft beer, draft cocktails, wine and amaro and sherry, plus a number of other liqueurs.
What should I drink next time I am at the bar?
Royal Ricky with Fords Gin.
What music and vibe are you going for?
Polite Provisions definitely has that soulful vibe, but it is all very American. On any given night, you might walk in and hear the Black Keys or Nina Simone over the speakers.
Where does the name Polite Provisions come from?
The name reminisces on the vintage drugstore and pharmacy days — an institution of Main Street America where people would get together to exchange thoughtful dialogue at the soda fountain. It is about bringing back that nostalgia that has been lost as corporate dining and restaurants chains become more prevalent.
What is your favorite thing about bartending?
Hands down, being able to introduce guests to something they have never had before. That is priceless.
If you could serve a drink to anybody, whom would you serve and what would you serve them?
I would take a shot of tequila with President Obama.
What are the key differences between being a bartender and a bar owner?
As a bartender, your concern is being a good host and serving up creative drinks. A bar owner is completely different, as you are primarily focused on managing costs and expenses. There is really nothing similar between the two, but at the same it is really cool because the insight you learn from doing both compliments one another.
How many bartenders does it take to change a light bulb?
Three. Two to stand there and stare at it and one to ask a bar back. Ha!
Any words of wisdom?
My words of wisdom would be geared towards a young aspiring bartender — once a week, put at least one night’s earnings into savings, and in 10 years you should have enough money to put towards opening your own bar.
At the end of the day, always remember that you are there to serve the guest.
Two Erick Castro signature recipes:
2 ounces bourbon
3/4 ounce lemon
3/4 ounce ginger syrup
1 muddled strawberry
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Shake and pour into a Collins glass. Top with club soda and a lemon wheel.
Rye Maple Fizz
2 ounces rye whiskey
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce grade B maple syrup
1/2 ounce egg white
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Shake and pour into a fizz glass. Top with club soda and freshly grated cinnamon.
Read more Drink Ford Tough columns on Food Republic: