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"Hov' remind yourself; No one built like you, you design yourself…" Jay-Z
Richard Thomsen first caught the bartending bug in 1997, when he started working at TGI Fridays, and saw his first bar competition. "Back then it was all about spinning bottles & showmanship, or 'Flare Bartending" as it is called." he says. He has worked his way through numerous bars, night clubs, and restaurants in the Tampa/St Pete area, honing his craft & learning at every turn. His diverse resumé has molded him into a unique character behind the bar, with knowledge of wine, beer, spirits, cuisine, and a bit of a historian of bar culture both locally & nationally. In the past few years we have seen the explosion of "craft cocktails" in the Tampa Bay area, Richard was mentored by Ro Patel & worked side by side with some of the best bartenders in the area while working at Ciro's Speakeasy and Supper Club. In an industry where timing is everything, this proved to be the inspiration he needed. "I knew I could bartend, but to be thrown in the middle of so many talented bartenders & see what could be accomplished with everybody working together to push each other, was quite amazing. On a normal Sunday, at Ciro's hospitality night, you could find some of the best bartenders in Tampa. "It was a who's who of local bartenders! There was no pressure when someone said just make me something." he says with a smile. He is currently working at Pane Rustica in South Tampa, and is a member of the Tampa chapter of the United States Bartender Guild. When not working behind his current bar he is probably designing a drink for a cocktail competition, such as the Zubrowska Vodka ("I'll Smoke Anything"), Bombay Sapphire Gin ("Power of Papaya"), Don Julio Tequila ("Plant City Paloma"), Avion Tequila ("Honey-Do-List"), Alibi ("Bartender Breakfast"), Diageo World Class ("Some Dumb, Not Plum Dumb"), just to name a few. He is known for using molecular techniques, such smoking ice cubes, creating one cocktail in "three different states of matter". Merging them into classic recipes to make them his own, as well as merging his roots in flare with classic bartending. He obviously enjoys a creative drink name, too. Don't think competitions are the only way to see him away from his home bar. Through his involvement in the USBG Tampa, he has been able to work with some of the best bartenders from around the country at events such as Repeal Day, Tiki Party, Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, & local charity events throughout the year. "The Guild has pushed the city as a whole & has helped to put the Tampa cocktail community in the national spotlight. I have been fortunate to meet, learn, work, & develop friendships with some of the legends of this industry, because of it."
"I might be some dumb, but I'm not Plum Dumb" - Junebug
"The things in the night cannot be explained in the day, because they do not then exist" - Ernest Hemingway
Q: How did you start bartending?
A: "I had been bar backing for a bit, when a friend called me to tell me about a bartender position at his club. So I showed up & we proceeded to lie about my experience so I could get the job. It was in a busy nightclub only a couple nights a week, but I fell in love with it immediately. At first I was just happy to be getting paid to be at a party, then I realized how exciting the fast pace of it was. I have a peer who always says, "We host a party every night the doors open, treat every guest as if they are at your home." I believe the most important part of this job is to be gracious even when your three deep at the bar & the service well has a dozen tickets hanging. It is still the hospitality industry."
Q: What inspires you to create a cocktail?
A: "All kinds of things… Sometimes its as simple as learning a new technique, or recipe & tinkering with that. I also enjoy seeing what is fresh at the market, too. I will see some local honey, cardamon, and fresh peaches, take them home & start playing around. I'll make a honey cardamon syrup or foam, & try it in a sour with muddled peaches & tequila. After a few variations and changes, I get an idea that I'll try to fine tune until it is were I want it. In a competition you generally have parameters and guidelines to follow, so I try to push the limits as much as possible, while staying with in the rules. Occasionally a new spirit, or bitter will show up at the bar & that will give me inspiration, as well.
Q: What is a cocktail competition?
A: "Drink competitions are traditionally based around a base spirit or type of cocktail, & all competitors are given ground rules to follow. There is normally a time limit and you have to make cocktails for multiple judges, generally judged on technical, taste, and appearance. Comps are great, you get to see other bartenders doing things they don't always do behind their bars during a shift. Someone will smoke a glass before they pour a cocktail into it, or hand roast coffee beans in an orange half. I always learn something new when I go to a comp, its great to be able to meet new people in the industry, & compete against your peers."
Q: What do you think of Tampa's cocktail scene?
A: "I think the area has exploded in recent years, this is truly a hot bed of talent all over the area! Just take a look at all the great bars opening up in the area, it doesn't matter what part of town I'm in, I know I can get a great cocktail close. There are amazing bars in St Pete, in downtown Tampa, Carrolwood, South Tampa, Ybor you name it! You are starting to see more & more industry professionals focusing in on what Tampa is doing & how to be involved in it. At the past Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, the largest industry event in the U.S., the USBG Tampa hosted a Happy Hour for Dickel Whiskey. I can't wait to see what the future holds. usually when I go somewhere new I'm blown away by the passion, & creativity behind the bar."
Q: Why do you enjoy bartending?
A: "Its an amazing industry, in this job you have a responsibility to make someones night special. On any given night I may take care of a first date, a birthday, someone having a bad day. Or even a married couple with three kids who only get to have one night out a month together. It's different every night, so you have to tailor each experience to your patrons preferences. You can also create a character behind the bar, I have friends that are quiet as could be until they get behind the bar where they transform. Lets face it, most you find doing this job just like people, we enjoy meeting, talking, and learning from them. We don't just make drinks, we make memories. I like to hope that my drinks are memorable, too!"
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