Celebrity bartender Gaz Regan mixes it up his way

Quirky English bartender and book author does things the way he wants, right down to stirring cocktails using a finger to get smiles.

Gaz Regan may have his quirks but he is highly respected for his bartending skills all over the world. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
Gaz Regan may have his quirks but he is highly respected for his bartending skills all over the world. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

English bartender and book author Gaz Regan is a quirky chap with a big personality, to say the least.

The 63-year-old wears thick, black eyeliner under his right eye and likes to be referred to these days as Gaz Regan, The Bartender Formerly Known As Gary Regan.

It is a concept that he borrowed from American singer The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, he says.

Asked about his signature eyeliner look which he has been sporting for the past two years, and Regan replies, looking at this reporter intently: "Look at me. Look at me. Look at me. I stole that line from the late British actor Laurence Olivier, who said that to someone who asked him why he was an actor."

When Regan was in town last week to conduct a workshop on mindful bartending, on how to better serve customers, he opened his session by sipping his infamous finger-stirred negroni cocktail and fist- pumping to a punk cover of Frank Sinatra's My Way.

A three-minute- long meditation session to set "your intentions for the day" was also part of the workshop for the participants, who numbered around 20.

Quirks aside, Regan is highly respected in the global bartending arena.

He has authored 10 books on the art of mixology, including The Bartender's Bible (1991) and The Joy Of Mixology (2003), and travels the world holding workshops and judging cocktail competitions.

He was in Singapore to judge the Diageo Reserve World Class Singapore competition.

Regan, who is divorced and says he is dating, works six shifts at award-winning cocktail bar The Dead Rabbit in New York City each year.

1 How did you get your start in bartending?

My parents ran pubs in north-west England, so I started working for them at an early age at two pubs. The Prince Rupert in a town called Bolton and the second was called the Bay Horse in a town called Thornton.

Bay Horse is still there and it's my local. The Prince Rupert became a learning centre for Muslims.

2 How many cocktail recipes have you memorised?

Not many. No, really, I'm not the world's most creative bartender by a long chalk and that's not false modesty. When I bartend at The Dead Rabbit, I have only four drinks that I serve, and every time I do a shift, I have to brush up on the recipes so I remember how to make them.

3 What's the story behind your infamous finger-stirred negroni?

A few years ago, I was in Cognac, France, helping to judge another bartending competition, and I was behind the bar with another judge, and we were making negronis for the 20 contestants in the competition as quickly as possible. As we were putting them together, just for a bit of fun, I started stirring them with my finger and everyone laughed, and it's just something that carried on. It took me a while to understand why it was a good idea - it's because it puts a smile on everybody's face.

4 What's the most interesting cocktail you've had?

It was made by an Australian, Tim Philips, the winner of Diageo Reserve World Class 2012. The drink was called the Resurrection Flip. He poured the ingredients into the shaker, broke a quail's egg into it, then took a shaker to put ice into it. But he dropped it. The drink went all over the floor and we went, "Oh my God".

Tim then said the drink needed a hen's egg. He had a tray of hen's eggs, he didn't break it, he put the whole egg into an empty shaker, filled it with ice, shook it like crazy and poured out the same drink that he made before. I couldn't figure out how he did it.

5 Most horrible bar experience?

It was 1974, a Friday night. There was a guy waving a $10 bill to get my attention. He was so drunk, he couldn't tell me what he wanted. I told him: "I'm sorry, I really can't serve you."

I walked away. It turned out he had a bad speech impediment. He wasn't drunk. Lucky I knew the right thing to say: "Sorry, you look like someone I just threw out of here last night, but you're not him after all, let me buy you a drink." We both knew it was bulls***, but everything was okay.

6 Is there anything a bartender should not do or put into a cocktail?

Try anything. It's like punk rock, where they say what matters is that we're playing music and it doesn't matter how well we play. I've seen drinks where I've seen the recipe and I've said: "That sounds awful."

But I sampled it and it was fabulous. I've seen cocktails where the bartender is like, "So I smoked mesquite with the bourbon and lavender", and all these things that intimidate the drinker. You taste it and you end up with cr**.

7 When life hands you lemons, what cocktail would you make?

Oh, I wish you would hand me limes instead. A sidecar cocktail.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

As someone who spread happiness.