Bar Rescue‘s Russell Davis talks bartending trends and drinking in space; catch him at the grand opening of Grinders High Noon on Wednesday

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You might know Russell Davis from Spike TV’s Bar Rescue, or perhaps you’ll recall that 2012 Bartender of the Year award from Nightclub & Bar. Either way, Davis — who got his start over a decade ago in the Austin bar scene — has managed a wildly successful career in the booze industry. As the CEO of Cosmic Lifestyle Corporation, he’s lately driven by a new project: the Zero Gravity Cocktail Glass — a glass designed for consuming craft cocktails in outer space. 

Davis is in town to help open up the new Grinders High Noon space in Leavenworth on Wednesday, October 28. I dialed him up to chat trends and extraterrestrial drinks. 

The Pitch
: What are some unusual or obscure products that you feel are on the up and up?

Davis: The things that I’m really getting excited about are things that aren’t even out yet. For the past four months, when I’m not actually working, one of my biggest projects is researching drinking culture and travel around the world and finding the things that are off the radar. I’ve been traveling to Central America and discovering liquors that people don’t know about yet. Traveller’s Distillery [in Belize] is doing some cool things. It’s interesting in the United States, because you’ll see liquors that’ll come up in San Francisco and New York, and then they’ll assimilate to other parts of the country.

We’re living in a really cool time. You can talk about things like fernet or mezcal in certain regions in the United States and no one’s heard of it, and then you go someone else and they’re already bored of it.

After so many years in the industry, you’ve seen it evolve — trends go up and down. What are some trends you’re glad to have seen go away, and what are some you wish would come back?

There’s very few trends that I can say that are out there that I want to see disappear, because every time I think I’m over something, I see someone revamp a trend in a way that’s amazing and I end up loving it. So I try not to have that negative outlook on things that maybe other people think should go away. I just want to see things be amazing as possible.

Something I’m really excited to see happening now, in the craft world, is that people are finally starting to accept and understand the shot version of cocktails again. Craft bartenders or mixologists are putting as much effort into the shot as they are with cocktails, and I love seeing that. I like that there’s a finally an appreciation of doing the cocktails from top to bottom — no matter how quickly someone drinks them. Five or six years ago, I’d be working in the craft cocktail bars and no one would put the effort into a drink that someone would shoot. Now, there’s a certain amount of care and thoughtfulness and creativity going back into it.

There’s a lot of discussion about what makes a truly great bartender. Some people might argue it’s not even about the quality of the drink; others might say the drink is the centerpiece. What do you think is the mark of a great bartender?

I mean, there’s a couple different answers to that question. There’s what I think I need, as a bartender, to be great, and what I want out of a bartender whenever I sit down, which is not necessarily what might be considered the best. Ultimately, to me, it seems that the best bartenders around know technique, mixology and showmanship while still performing that essential service, doing that job of being a bartender. The ones that are operating at the highest level are the ones that do all of that with balance.

Let’s talk about your work for a minute. A project that you’re involved in — the Zero Gravity Cocktail Glass — seems insane. I’ve always thought of bartending as a salt-of-the-earth profession, and you’re part of a team that wants to bump it into outer space — literally. How far are we, would you say, from regular people — well, regular people with millions of dollars — having craft cocktails in space?

As far as when the first taste [of a drink at zero gravity] is poured, that was supposed to be last year. We’re literally on the verge, but, with anything big, there are always bumps in the road. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic has already sold 800 tickets at quarter million dollars each to go up [to space] and travel. You’ve got several companies looking at going up and building this [space travel] as a tourism industry. You’ve got a lot of people really fighting for this. So, how far are we from putting regular people in space? Not that far. Not that far at all. We’ll see it in a couple years. Now, having cocktails in space? That depends.

The Cosmic Lifestyle Corporation — the story behind it, really, is that a couple years ago, I was brought out to Portland to compete in a [bartending] competition [Lush Life Production’s Humans vs. Robots Bartender Competition] where the bartenders competed against robots. One of the reps came up to me after the competition and I was asked if I wanted to make the first cocktail in space. Of course, I said yes — how was I going to say no to that?

And I realized that there was s much bigger company here than just sending cocktails to space. These first space tourists — it’s essentially a camping trip. We’re using the Zero Gravity Cocktail project to sort of introduce the company, and what we’re trying to do is provide products that enable you to travel in space and be comfortable, even if you’re not someone who has gone through the years of training to become an astronaut. It’s very much a flagship project, trying to create the first company for space, and what better way to do than creating the first drink for space? We’re taking into account the technology, and we’re considering the people that are going up there. But we’re still not sure if the drink ever be in this fashion [of the zero gravity cocktail glass]. At least we’ve done it. There are other hospitality projects that we’re working on, and you’ll be hearing more announcements in the next couple of months.

Personally, being someone in the industry, I’ve always wanted to make things approachable. How do we make space travel approachable? Put a drink in your hand. We want to make it easy for people to think about. I grew up on a farm in East Texas, but at the same time, I always wanted to be the best and do landmark things, and for me that’s what the zero gravity cocktail project is: to take whatever the fuck I’m doing in my profession and take it higher than anyone else has ever taken it — literally. [Laughs.]

Given that, and all your other various gigs — Bar Rescue, your consulting company Unlimited Liabilities — I’m a little curious about how you ended up teaming up with Stretch for the Grinder’s High Noon opening.

[Laughs.] Stretch [Grinders owner and operator] and I did an episode of Bar Rescue two and a half years ago or something, and we’ve stayed friends since. One of the fringe benefits of being successful is just to get out there and help out your friends and do whatever you can on that end. He wanted me to come out and train the staff a little bit, and I happen to really like Kansas City. It made sense. 

Grinders High Noon is located at 206 Choctaw St., Leavenworth, KS 66048. It will celebrate its grand opening on Wednesday, October 28 with Russell Davis. The restaurant is open all day; party starts at 6 p.m. with live music at 8:30 p.m. Free. 

See also
Grinders announces it’s taking over the High Noon Saloon in Leavenworth
Grinders High Noon set to open October 28

Categories: Music