The tender: Mary Melton
The bar: P.F. Chang's China Bistro (multiple locations)
The pedigree: Melton found her first bartending job post-college, at an airport in Kansas City. After working her way around several bars and restaurants in that city, she moved to San Diego, where she ventured into restaurant and night club management. She became the beverage director for P.F. Chang's in 2005, managing all things liquid for the restaurants, including tea, coffee, beer, and cocktails.
How do you approach making cocktails?
I really love the classics, so I'll start with a lot of well-loved, classic drinks -- gin and tonic, dark and stormy. I really look for fresh ingredients too. It's a stock answer, but we squeeze all our own lemons, limes and oranges; we try to make everything as fresh as possible and really go after it quality-wise. I also like to do whatever's trending, and I travel a lot. You guys might know a lot about Phoenix, but I know a lot about the other bars out there. It's great to travel and see what other people are doing.
Which is you favorite P.F. Chang's to visit?
Oh, I can't answer that! I have favorite cities; I've found the most amazing things where you wouldn't expect. I've found really cool restaurants and bars in Atlanta, and places in New York are always amazing. But really, a lot of the smaller cities are great too. I was in Toledo, Ohio recently, and that location is really cool. They love the hospitality aspect of the restaurant, so it's always exciting to visit.
Having worked as a manager for a while, do you ever miss getting behind the bar?
I was talking about this with someone today, and they said to me, "You're still a bartender." But I'm really not; bartending requires speed and grace, and if you're not back there you kind of lose it. I love going behind the bar at my own house to make drinks, but I would be very nervous to go back in the restaurant. You know that bad dream you have where you can't find anything? It would be like that. But more than anything, I love the bar. My husband and I -- by the way, he's an ex-bartender too -- when we go out, we always sit at the bar. We love to order specialty drinks and discuss new liquors.
Speaking of new liquors, how do you decide what booze you're going to sell at one of your restaurants?
When people send me stuff, we test it. If it fits our criteria of a quality product, we might use it in a drink. Bubblegum vodka probably isn't going to work with us. But the other day, somebody sent in this really cool container of Washington cherries, and I thought, okay, what can I do with this?
As a maker of cocktails, what do you drink when you're out? Are you picky?
No, not at all! I'm a wino at heart, but I really like beer a lot too. It really depends on what the night is, what the seasons are. I don't usually do the sweet drinks -- I like stuff that's a little more savory or interestingly-flavored.
If you could choose one person to sit at the bar and share a drink with, who would it be?
Besides my husband? I think I'd choose President Obama. I'd ask him about his family, and what he likes to eat and drink. I wouldn't necessarily talk politics, because I don't think I could hold my own with him.
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