The cocktails at VASO in Dublin, Ohio, are diverse, with many different influences.
This is because all the bartenders at this location inside the AC Hotel by Marriott Columbus Dublin give input on the drinks during quarterly, friendly competitions set by general manager Rebecca Monday.
Monday challenges her bar team (12 bartenders in the summer; nine in the colder months) to be hands-on to better highlight individuality and showcase the team's talents as a whole.
To get the creative juices flowing prior to the fruit juices, Monday provides flavor profiles to her team, which is like an inspiration board of ingredients. She creates a pamphlet of ideas.
“I give them a pantry list of produce that is on the radar for current trends or is seasonally acceptable, such as carrots, beets and rosemary, for the current menu. Outside of that, I give them styles, such as swizzle cocktails, and garnish ideas. I separate them into categories of ideas and give suggestions on how they could put them all together.” It works better to give some guidelines, Monday says, “because sometimes staff wonder where to start.”
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Monday, who went to art school, sees this is a “vision board” and includes pictures, such as images from Instagram and other sites, for inspiration.
She then leaves the staff to their own R&D. Each person works mostly alone, though Monday helps them and makes sure they’re all working on something different. Staff are free to try out cocktails during a slow shift, or have guests sample them, or to come anytime to the restaurant’s 24-hour kitchen and prep room, where there’s a pantry stocked with ingredients.
“It’s good to have all those ingredients in front of you,” she says, “because your brain might not think of some of those ingredients otherwise.”
She doesn’t limit staff too much by asking them to consider labor and food costs “because I don’t want to encourage them to not be as creative as possible,” but if there’s something a cocktail that’s not feasible, she looks for alternative ingredients or preparation methods.
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At the end of that period, Monday, along with the restaurant and hotel’s managers, serves as a “judging panel” and tastes the cocktails, along with the entire team. Monday may work to refine some of the cocktails when the competition has finished, and she ends up with a menu of new cocktails. These are a talking point with guests, too.
On top of that, “this keeps staff inspired and challenged,” she says. “I have fun and my staff does, too.”
Not every bartender is represented on every menu, but because they all provide feedback and improvements to each other, “there are four or five hands on each drink,” Monday points out.
Her favorites on the current menu are the Botanist (purple carrot sea-salted mezcal, tarragon agave, citric acid, carrot fronds); and the Late Night Feels (bourbon, Amaro Nonino, lemon, cinnamon, persimmon, rosemary), which required a lot of research into persimmons, she says.
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So far, Monday has created the restaurant’s non-alcohol cocktail menu herself, but recently gave her staff a crash course on creating them and will encourage them to contribute to these, too, for the next contest.