March 2013 Bartender of the Month: Sean Kenyon

Name: Sean Kenyon
Establishment: Barman/Proprietor of Williams & Graham and Beverage Director at The Squeaky Bean

Recent Gigs: Sean Kenyon has been the driving force behind the resurrection of Denver’s cocktails scene. He was literally born to be behind a bar. He is a third generation Bar Man - his grandfather and father have both been pub owners and Bar Men in New Jersey since the 1930's.

Sean was raised in his family's pubs. While all the other kids wanted to be firemen or super heroes, he always wanted to be a Bartender (though he does still admit that the power of invisibility would be pretty cool).

He first stepped behind the bar at the young age of sixteen and has never left. He has a passion for classic cocktails and cocktail history and shows great respect for that history and methodology while finding influences for new creations in modern spirits, ingredients and techniques.

Sean is a BAR Ready graduate of the prestigious Beverage Alcohol Resource program and has helped proctor the program each year since he graduated. In addition, he is a USBG Certified Spirits Professional and has achieved his level one sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers. As a founding member of the Colorado chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild (COBG) he is passionately dedicated to furthering the art and craft of bartending.

When Steuben’s opened in 2005, he put together a creative list of originals and classics that, at the time, was groundbreaking for the Mile High City. In 2009 Sean was named Denver Magazine's Mixologist of the year, and was one of three finalists in 2010.

In 2010, Sean moved on to The Squeaky Bean where he continued to raise the bar for innovation putting together inspired menus to compliment acclaimed chef Max McKissock’s brilliant dining experience. That year he also won Domaine de Canton's Bartender of the Year competition in St Maarten.

Over the course of his 27-year career, Sean has managed bars and cocktail programs in New Jersey, Austin, Texas and Denver, Colorado. In late 2011, Kenyon opened his defining bar, Williams & Graham in Denver’s LoHi neighborhood. Williams and Graham is the culmination of his 27 years behind bars as well as an homage to his family’s legacy.

Personal achievements aside, Sean is well known for giving back to his community through charity and outreach. Sean has coordinated or participated in charity events for the MS Society, Denver Rescue Mission, The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Foundation, The Gathering Place and Share our Strength, as well running the Denver Marathon, to benefit the V Foundation for Cancer Research and raised over $5,000.

What’s in the mixing glass or shaker:
Fresh, seasonal produce and seasonally appropriate herbs and spices. I look for amazing local spirits, like Spring44, Leopold Bros. and Peach St.

What are some of the hot trends for the coming year:
I actually don’t pay much attention to trends, I believe it is one of the biggest mistakes bar owners make, they look at trends and decide the direction of their business. What I’d like to see for the coming year is a return to bartending basics, the fundamentals of hospitality, quality, and attention to detail.

What’s the secret to your success:
I want our bar to be a classic; not a trendy flash in the pan. We do time honored things very well and we work on a “build it and they will come” philosophy. I care deeply about our guests and our staff.  I want them to enjoy every moment at Williams & Graham. I only hire people who truly care about hospitality and have a true desire to take care of people. It is hard to find true believers, but I feel very strongly that they are the key to our success. It’s all about the people who are on the front line and I would put our staff up against any other in the country. I took our one year tenured staff to Scotland to thank them and teach them about Scotch Whisky. I want to give back to them all that they have given to us.

What are you sipping and why:
Usually Mezcal, Del Maguey to be specific. It is a truly indigenous spirit made by the same families that have been making it for over 500 years.

What are you dancing to while mixing:
If I was dancing, people would be leaving my bar in droves. I am listening to old blues, Junior Kimbrough, Lightning Hopkins, etc. or punk rock bands like the original Misfits, Minor Threat, and Quicksand.

What are some quirks or quotes that you are known for:
I don’t allow hats behind the bar. If you step behind the bar in a hat you have to buy a round for the whole place. It is odd to see so many bartenders wearing hats these days, I grew up being taught was inappropriate. The bartender “look” makes me ill. Newsboy caps, suspenders, curly mustaches, etc…it’s so cliché. Bartending is about taking care of people and personal fashion should be an afterthought.

Final thoughts. Right now we are living at the pinnacle of our craft. For this trend to continue, we need to take the focus off of ourselves and refocus the attention on our guests. Too many big-time mixologists want to be rock stars, but that goes against everything our craft was built on. “Be a bartender first,” make a great drink, focus on hospitality and know your guest. All else is secondary.

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