Jun 10, 2016 12:16PM
By Daisy Hutzell-Rodman
Benjamin Rowe creates cocktails that, quite frankly, say, “drink me.” They are magical, but they won’t make you smaller. The magic comes from the fact that they are crafted with a lot of thought and care.
“I couldn’t quite decide what I wanted to do for a living,” Rowe says of starting as a career bartender. “Bartending was something I had always done on the side.”
Rowe has worked in the bar industry for more than 10 years, and through that time he’s seen several changes.
“It’s only been in the past few years that you have been able to see bartending as a career. It’s not just about slinging drinks anymore. It’s about being professional. I think it’s good for the industry to have someone in it for 20 years and impart that knowledge on to others.”
He’s worked in several places, but came to the forefront of the bartending profession with an opportunity to work at the Dell in 2006, which, he says, had the best bartenders in the city then.
“It was a great opportunity to learn from who were at the time the masters of bartending,” Rowe says.
After learning from the best in Omaha, Rowe eventually wound his way to a bar that became synonymous with craft bartending and themed parties—the House of Loom. The new wave of craft bartending reinvigorated Rowe for the profession.
“For me it really was the culture of The Loom that did it,” Rowe says. “From the beginning the motto at the Loom was ‘we care.’ We care about the customer experience, we care about the music that’s playing, we care about the cocktails that go across the bar.”
That care began to show in the passion he gained for the profession. He began wanting to know more about the spirits, about the ingredients. The House of Loom focused on a seasonal menu that encouraged people to try new drinks every quarter.
“For us it was more important to have you try a new drink. We put a lot of time and effort, and money, to develop these cocktails,” Rowe said. “They are still making great interesting seasonal cocktails.”
These days, Rowe can be found behind the bar at the Wicked Rabbit, a speakeasy near Hotel Deco serving a wide selection of pre-prohibition style drinks.
“Wicked Rabbit is a different animal,” Rowe says. “We find it is very much about the cocktails. It’s very much about the quality of the cocktails, right down to the glassware we choose to serve it in.”
While customers can, and are encouraged to, try a new cocktail, they can also serve the standards.
“A lot of this bar is about suspension of disbelief,” Rowe said. “You don’t go and watch Schindler’s List and then read it and expect the same thing out of it. Just to get into the bar you have to walk into a store, and then you have to walk through the shelf. That sets the tone for the bar. The rest of the experience should take you down that path. That being said, we don’t want to tell someone who has been drinking whisky and Cokes for 20 years that we can’t serve it.”
That attitude of serving what guests want was especially helpful when they first opened.
“We are technically a hotel bar,” Rowe said. “We get a very eclectic mix here. I appreciate that. The first week we were open there was a convention here that had something to do with farming. So they came in and looked around, and at first they thought they were a little out of place. But you put a whisky in front of them, and you chat with them, and soon they had a great time.”
But it’s the specialty cocktails that keep patrons coming back, and Rowe continues to create new specialty cocktails.
“As I progress, I want to push the boundaries of what is a great cocktail…At the end of the day, it’s liquid in a cup. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of some of those bars that give out the best liquids in some of the best cups in the city.”
Whether someone wants to drink their standard cocktail or to try something new, Rowe’s commitment to caring about cocktails means he wants every patron to enjoy themselves.
“We want anyone who wants to experience this journey to come here and have a great time. I don’t care what walk of life you’re from. Anyone who wants to come here should be able to come here and have a great time.”