Behind the Bar: Tommy McCormack at Merc Bar

Tommy McCormack makes you feel like a regular even if it's your first time at Merc Bar. He makes sure his guests have a good time, whether there are four people at the bar or 400. 

McCormack, 34, has a passion for bartending, and he's seen it as both a bartender and general manager. Find out why he moved from New York to Arizona and how he keeps everyone engaged at the bar!

Why did you decide to move to Arizona from New York? 

My wife was relocated out here with her company. We never lived anywhere else. Back east I, for seven years, ran the bar next door (Bar 89, which has the same owner as AZ 88 in Scottsdale) to the Merc Bar in New York. Two bars with sister bars in Phoenix so it's pretty cool. 

How long have you worked at Merc Bar? 
I've been here for seven months. I came in as the general manager, and this place has such great history so it's cool to be part of it. It's got a timeless look and a timeless feel. If you walked into this bar 20, 30 years from now, it'd still have a great feel to it. There are some places that open up and are very contemporary or have a very specific style to them that may not translate five, 10 years down the road. 

How did you get into bartending in the first place? 
My high school football coach owned a bar, and when I was coming home from college on breaks, I started to work at his bar as a barback. Then in college I was doing the same thing and one day I showed up for work and one of the bartenders had called out sick, so the owner of the bar put me on as a bartender. So that's kind of where it all started. I just kept doing it regardless of where I was. I decided that I loved the industry and I loved the business behind the industry. At about age 25, I decided to go more into the management end of things. 

What's your favorite part of bartending? 
I always looked at bartending as being one part culinary, where you're the bar chef, and you're creating things and you want them to be perfect and you want to introduce people to new things. The other part is obviously the social aspect of it, and kind of being that conductor behind the bar where you're getting people engaged. You're not only engaging yourself, but you're getting people engaged who are sitting at your bar, you want to get them involved with each other. You don't want it to be pockets of people who are just keeping to themselves. That really is part of the job. I find that today there are way too many bartenders who will concentrate on one aspect of the job or the other. It's definitely a balancing act. It can be tough at times, but when I was first learning I had the pleasure of working with some really great bartenders. The common thread is if you can make it look easy, then that's half the battle. I used to love the challenge of it.

How do you come up with your own drink recipes? 
It is some trial and error, but I think the main thing is you want to identify one flavor. Around that, you want to come up with the right mix. A drink should definitely have a flavor to it, and then you always want to gauge how strong you want it to be. You just want to come up with things that are going to complement that flavor and not mask it. 

What do you like to do when you're not bartending? 
I love to travel. My wife and I like to take some road trips and hang with our dog. We work out and go hiking. Now that we live out here we try to take advantage of the outdoor lifestyle. We try to go out and get into the community a little bit and show some support to the local restaurants and bars. It's easy when you work in this industry to kind of get away from it when it's your downtime, which is always healthy to do to some degree, but a part of being in the industry is going out and showing your face and showing your support for other places. 

What's your favorite thing about the Moscow Mule (a specialty drink at Merc Bar)? 
It's one of those drinks that I think appeals to the masses - men, women. It's definitely something that I have probably had a 99 percent success rate with, unless someone isn't a vodka drinker or doesn't like cucumber or ginger. Plus I've been putting it on my menus for about 10 years now, and regardless of the fact that it's been around for so long, it's still something you can introduce to a guest, and chances are they've never tired one before. So now people are going to leave here with a memorable experience and being introduced to something new.


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Charlsy Panzino