Behind the Bar: Barry Solomon, Merc Bar

Barry Solomon is a lot like the bar he works behind: Cool.

Merc Bar is so cool, in fact, there's barely a sign marking its existence outside the door.

"It's sort of -- you either know we're here or you don't," Solomon says.

That message of exclusivity resonates inside as well: all dark lighting, sleek furniture and even sleeker clientele. But Solomon has a rough edge that makes him even cooler than his customers -- if ever so slightly less sleek.

At 6-foot 3, he sports a shaved head, large metal rings and some serious tattoos.

This is a guy who has lived all over the country, just for the hell of it, ever since he left his hometown in California wine county and his dad's diesel truck shop in 1993. He kept Phoenix as a sort of home base throughout those 16 years, but never stayed in one place for long. His favorite of all the places he's lived? "The place I haven't been, to tell the truth," he says. "I'm just A.D.D. like that."

"I always want to meet new people; I always want to work in a new place." Last year alone, he lived in four different states.

His first tattoo was a mama's heart and now (at least) both his arms and stomach are covered in ink. His right arm reads, "The only hell my Mama ever raised," which is, apparently, true.

To Solomon, "being a bartender is being a cool kid," he says.

But, unlike most cool kids we knew in high school, Solomon is careful to use his powers for good, not evil.

He will not stand idly by when he sees that guy sitting in the corner alone, sulking. "I think it's part of your job to get them out of that," he says, "to get them in the middle of things, maybe introduce them to some people."

He doesn't ask people what kind of time they want to have in his bar. "I'm gonna show them what kind of good time they came here for," he says.

And that goes for cocktails, too. Trained by the head bartender at the Old Town Tortilla Factory when he first moved to the Valley, Solomon says he has worked in half the bars in Scottsdale. But he's happy to have found a home in the Merc Bar, which his hidden away across from Houston's in the Biltmore on Camelback and 24th St.

"Just by walking in here," he says, "a lot of people have faith by just looking at you, in the fact that you're standing behind the Merc bar."

He often hears the demand: "Make me your best cocktail." And he's quick to follow through.

Right now, he's into Pimm's -- he came up with what he calls a Pimm's Paradise, a spin-off the classic Pimm's Cup. But he's also playing with seasonal flavors, serving up a Blue Moon Cocktail (yep, with the beer - plus some peach schnapps and fresh-squeezed lemon...mmm), and the newest flavored anything. He just got a Dragonberry rum from Bicardi that he says he can't keep on the shelf, partly because of his creation: the Dragon Berry Mojito. (For that recipe, tune in tomorrow.)

Like many before him, this wanderer has finally found a home in Phoenix - a city that's finally found its passion, in his words.

Maybe it's that mama's heart tattoo on his arm, or maybe it's finding a bar as cool as he is -- but, "I'm gonna stay for a while now," he says.

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Lauren Gilger
Contact: Lauren Gilger