RAISING THE BAR: Florence bartender hopes to concoct cocktail winner
FLORENCE, S.C. — Wholly Smokin’ Downtown bartender Mikey Gordon doesn’t think he’s anything special. The judges at Bedlam Vodka beg to differ.
Gordon is one of six finalists —and the only one from South Carolina — in a three-state competition sponsored by the Durham, N.C., distillery. Others there will be from North Carolina and Georgia.
“I really didn’t think I’d be the only one from South Carolina that would make it,” Gordon said.
“I’m weird, I’m funny, I’m humble. I don’t think I’m anything special. I really don’t. Everyone tells me ‘You’re really good at what you do’,” Gordon said.
On Aug. 14 Gordon and five other finalists will gather in Atlanta, at the Fairmont, for the Inaugural Bar Fight with the winner to take home $10,000 and all the proceeds from the event to go to the Children’s Miracle Network.
For Gordon, a five-year resident of Florence, the competition is just the latest stop on a more-than 15-year bartending career that started in Washington, where he met his future wife — a Florence native.
Gordon spent a dozen years working in bars and learning his trade in the nation’s capital.
The Baltimore native said he was working door at a bar near American University and was approached by a bartender and asked if he wanted to learn the art. It was there, he said, he learned to make drinks that were more college themed than anything else.
After about six years there he moved to a second bar, closer to Georgetown University, where he learned to make Prohibition-style drinks and to love bourbon. The second bar had 200 bourbons and 70 ryes, he said.
“Bourbon is my area of expertise so that is why this bar has the selection it has,” Gordon said.
Gordon also got into cocktail programs while in DC and worked with a friend to find out what worked, and what didn’t, when it came to concocting cocktails — including thinking of what a cocktail shouldn’t be and finding out a way around that.
“No one is going to think that this is something you’re going to want to drink and we’d figure out a way to do it,” Gordon said. “He was good at cooking and I was good at weird ideas.”
Out of this came drinks such as an onion-syrup gin martini that nobody thought was a good idea and a pumpkin old fashion that turned out to be a great idea.
“Everything that would go into pumpkin pie I turn into a syrup and it’s delicious. That pumpkin old fashion I can sell every day.”
The cost of living in Washington was not conducive to starting a family. Gordon and his wife are now parents to a 3-year-old daughter and a 10-month-old son.
Advintage, one of the restaurant’s bar vendors and distributor of Bedlam Vodka, got Gordon into the contest.
Gordon said he came up with a cocktail using Bedlam Vodka and submitted the recipe and a photo of the final product for the judges to recreate.
His next step will be a brunch competition in Atlanta where he will have to create both a bloody Mary and a coffee cocktail, using three unannounced surprise ingredients, in a one-on-one competition that will eliminate three bartenders.
From there things will get serious with the final three set for a speed competition where they’ll have to do six cocktails to be judged on taste and cleanliness of preparation and a final round where they’ll have to prepare their drinks, provide the story of their drinks and present them and be judged on all parts of it.
Gordon said that all six will also participate in a 200-person gala with the proceeds set to go to Children’s Miracle Network and there will be a people’s champ decided out of that event.
“I guess if I can beat five people I’ll be there,” Gordon said of the prospect of winning $10,000 – and sharing some of that with the charity.
As for the drink that got him into the final six it is called Plumbling Around and contains plum — among other things.
“I don’t want to give out too much info because I don’t want my competition to, you know,” Gordon said.
After the competition, though, it’ll be on the menu at Wholly Smokin’ Downtown.
Don’t, though, expect any swagger out of Gordon should he win the three-state competition.
“I think the best thing to do is stay humble, don’t think you’re special and just keep doing what you do and maybe one day it’ll work out for you.”