A Cocktail Week Discussion with Chad Spangler
DC Cocktail Week is back, once again, as a week-long celebration of the area’s cocktail culture. A variety of incredible restaurants offer tasty cocktails paired with delicious bites, innovative events, and in-house happenings starting November 28th and culminating on December 5th with the Repeal Day Ball. Good friend and one of the dynamic duo behind Service Bar, Chad Spangler fills us in why he and Glendon Hartley opened their space and became an incredible part of the community:
When Glendon Hartley and I embarked on the journey of opening Service Bar, our primary aim was to become a neighborhood bar first and a cocktail bar second. This meant prioritizing the creation of a warm, inclusive, and comfortable environment above all else, almost as if we were crafting cocktails for ourselves. Over the past seven years, we've been fortunate to witness this concept surpass even our wildest expectations, becoming part of an extraordinary adventure that propelled our establishment to esteemed recognition, including RAMW's 2023 Cocktail Program of the Year and a spot on the 50 Best Bars of North America list. It's especially gratifying to receive such accolades considering we are not what many patrons expect when they visit one of the top cocktail bars in the country because of our casual and relaxed atmosphere.
While we are immensely grateful for the acknowledgment from our community of peers and mentors, it has also provided us with valuable learning experiences. This includes discovering how to maintain a consistently innovative and purposeful menu, as well as managing the demands of running service with the same dedication to hospitality while dealing with the unpredictability of frequent global pop-up events. It also motivates us to continuously elevate our competitive edge to stay at the top of our game.
Our creative process can be sparked by various sources - be it a particular ingredient like seasonal produce, centered around a specific spirit, or conceptual, aiming to encapsulate an idea in a glass. We train and encourage our staff to engage in this creative process collectively, fostering collaboration to drive menu development forward. We firmly believe that we are only as strong as our team. While Glendon and I both contribute creatively at Service Bar, we allocate resources to support, train, and nurture our team in order to generate more diverse and imaginative menus.
The process of crafting our menu commences with considering hyperseasonal, often local, and distinctive ingredients, coupled with a fundamental grasp of building classic cocktails. We meticulously search for the finest, most intriguing elements - from local spirits to exotic infusions and seasonal produce. Supporting local distilleries and farmers isn't just a choice; it's a responsibility, ensuring that the freshest and most exceptional components find their way into our creations.
Each cocktail on our menu tells a story, born from inspiration, flavor profiles, and the experience we aspire to offer our guests. At Service Bar, creating a cocktail is more than just mixing drinks; it's about orchestrating an experience. Our goal is for every guest to feel not just served, but genuinely cared for through purposeful cocktail craftsmanship and friendly, welcoming service.
However, this doesn't come without its challenges, especially working with our less experienced staff members. It often takes making fifty mediocre drinks before creating the first exceptional one. Teaching, training, and collaborating with our newest team members requires patience, constructive criticism, and the ability to motivate without dampening drive and enthusiasm. Everyone thinks and creates differently. For example, when I walk through my thought process with Glendon, and he walks through his, our approaches and outcomes are usually vastly different. This both complicates and enriches the process of team collaboration in menu development.
Our commitment to being a bar first is the bedrock of our identity, with hospitality being our utmost priority. We've established a space where every guest becomes an extension of our family, and every evening feels like a lively house party.
Maintaining our dedication to hospitality while traveling among the 50 Best Bars in North America has provided valuable insights into balancing bar operations at home and replicating that same experience nationally and internationally. We take immense pride in the success of our team, even with less direct oversight while hosting events off-site. Nevertheless, it demands heightened attention to communication to keep the team aligned, motivated, and moving forward. We've learned to approach work-related travel with the same seriousness as being in our home base, focusing less on tourism and distractions. While it's tempting to explore international locations and partake in events, visit sites, and experience the local culinary scene, it can leave you drained and in need of recovery. Learning to decline some of these opportunities has been a significant learning experience this year.
The time and effort required to maintain a high level of service, oversee the team, manage inventory, and uphold quality standards pose an ongoing challenge, especially if our leadership isn’t always at home. Technology serves as a vital lifeline, enabling remote management and constant connectivity. However, even in this digital age, there are obstacles - time zone differences, communication delays, and unforeseen challenges that demand swift, decisive responses. Trusting in a capable team is crucial, but letting go of control while upholding quality and standards is a delicate balancing act. Establishing systems and ensuring their utilization helps create stability and a seamless flow when assisting each other in various roles within our establishment. We strive to practice what we preach, developing training materials, checklists, order guides, etc., for each role in the building, and actively rotate responsibilities to ensure many trusted individuals can step into our roles or parts of them with ease. We also aim to empower our team and involve them in decision-making, ensuring they are independent and capable in the absence of one or all of the traditional leaders.
We stand resolute in our commitment to crafting an experience that seamlessly melds the art of craft cocktails with the essence of exceptional hospitality. Every member of our team puts in tremendous effort day in and day out, so being recognized as RAMW's 2023 Cocktail Program of the Year was a profound honor. With this award, we felt that we had achieved our goal of being a neighborhood bar welcoming to everyone, regardless of their background or walk of life.