Bartenders have been part of human culture as far back as Greek and Roman times, working class stiffs who poured grog or meed into the mugs of their inn patrons. They were considered to be uncultured, bourgeois and were paid accordingly, until Jerry Thomas’ 1862 book “How To Mix Drinks” brought about the Golden Age of cocktails, a period when bartenders became respectable, land owning-members of the upper class. Prohibition led to speakeasies, where bartenders in hidden places went wild creating drinks that became the basis of cocktail culture. Is today’s rock star bartender similar to the rise of the celebrity chef?
Meet Freddy Schwenk, who began his illustrious career as a mixologist at 21 in Boynton Beach, Florida, before making a Nashville-sized ” splash over most of the southeast with his unique works of art. He has overseen bar menu design and implementation in iconic Nashville venues such as Party Fowl, Bar Luca, Sinema, Geist and Vandyke Bed and Beverage (a cocktail centered boutique hotel). His awards have included the Eater Bartender of the Year Award in 2015 for his work at Chauhan Ale House and Thrillist’s Top Bartender in 2016. Schwenk is a contributor to Playboy’s “Bartender Confidential” series and his drinks have been published on Punchdrink, Tales of the Cocktail, and BuzzFeed.
However, rather than just polish his trophies, Schwenk has dipped his swizzle stick into the very fabric of Nashville’s cocktail culture and profoundly altered its evolution forever. Knowing that a quality cocktail cannot be created from inferior ingredients, he co-founded Nashville Ice Lab to ensure the flavor consistency and superiority of his creations. The company supplies specialty cocktail ice, fresh juices, non-alcoholic syrups, hydroponic herbs and bar equipment rentals, now boasting clientele throughout the south. However, his innovations do not stop there.
During his stint at Bar Sovereign, he began “ No Hard Feelings,” a weekly pop up cocktail bar where he and guest bartenders prepare a limited menu of extreme cocktails “featuring quality ingredients and a wicked sense of humor.” The concept has been so successful that it has spread nationally. Schwenk’s passion is to create inventive twists of old favorite cocktails without straying too far from their original flavor structure. Currently he owns/operates several ventures in Nashville including Exile, Bless Yer Heart, and No Hard Feelings. He is a partner in Flamingo Cocktail Club, Nashville Bar Alliance, Falcon Coffee and his latest passion, Germantown‘s Geist.
Geist, one of the Rob Report’s 13 most beautiful restaurants in the US, describes itself as “a stylish, brick-clad eatery & bar offering American fare plus cocktails and wine in Nashville’s only champagne garden.” The building was originally opened In 1886 as a blacksmith shop and restructured with the current brick in 1900. It was added to The National Register Of Historic Places In 1980. In 2015 it underwent a meticulous restoration to preserve and revitalize the Nashville landmark in preparation for its second life as Geist in March 2018. At that time the shop was the city’s oldest continuously operating family business in music city. A mere two years after its refurbishment, tornadoes ravaged the restored landmark. However, it was judiciously repaired and has become one of the most exceptional culinary gems in the city, largely responsible to Schwenk’s bodacious libations, as fresh and inventive as the mixologist himself.
NEXT ON THE DISH