It's not easy to take over management of three bars all of the sudden and it's even harder to do it when those bars have a reputation for high standards, trendsetting, and constant inventiveness like Citizen Public House, its upstairs speakeasy R+D, and Phoenix's The Gladly, but Brandon Casey has a plan.
Although Casey got his start in the food and beverage industry as a bus boy at The Buttes, then as "the worst server ever" at Native New Yorker, and then a bouncer at several Mill Avenue hangs, his love of craft cocktailing pretty much consumed his life after one margarita competition.
After winning second place, beaten only by his predecessor and mentor Richie Moe, Moe randomly called Casey up to spend a night behind the bar at R+D. Casey said he jumped at the chance, leaving his other job early to take Moe up on the offer. He said he fell in love with bartending at R+D, was offered a job, and put his two weeks in at his other gig all in one night.
Recently Moe, an infamous and highly celebrated bartender in the Phoenix scene, parted ways with the trio of Citizen restaurants and Casey took his place at the helm of the three bars.
"I miss him all the time," Casey says. "Without him I would still be stuck on Mill putting people in headlocks."
However, Casey is excited to take the bars in a new direction. While he sees the history of Citizen's cocktail program revolving around Moe's gregarious, magnetic personality, Casey is ready to build a cohesive vision for all three bars revolving around the company as a whole.
While this means revamping the cocktail menu itself, it also includes a full redesign of Citizen R+D, which Casey says will be more inviting to guests once it re-opens in July, while still providing the same one-of-a-kind, experimental experience. Plans include expanding their already extensive barrel program with a range of curing, rinsing, smoking, charring, and more. However, he says they'll still keep past favorites like the G+T, a gin distilled tableside and mixed with Fever Tree tonic that he says is the best gin made in town.
"We're going to start using R+D as more for r and d," he says. "We'll test out drinks up there and transfer what works well over to The Gladly and downstairs."
One new cocktail he has planned is a watermelon fennel margarita with olive oil and sea salt, but Casey's imprint on past menus was scene in the carbonated cocktails and pretty much all of the shandys on the menu.
Now he looks forward to dialing some of the drinks back to focus on simplicity and balance. He loves experimenting with the Negroni template, subbing whiskey for gin or messing with different amaros, but when he's drinking he prefers to go an even simpler route--Jameson straight up.
"Simple is back in," he explains, well, simply.
In the future, Casey plans on working side-by-side with the chefs in the kitchen to offer weekly cocktail and entrée pairings that will be offered Thursday through Saturday, which he says will start after Restaurant Week. He's also working on barrel aging highland blanco tequila in white oak barrels soaked with Bordeaux. He hopes to have a complex, tannic, but smooth añejo by October, but he takes the barrel down from the office rafters from time to time just to check its progress.
Most of all, Casey says he is looking forward to focusing on guest education, making the experience at Citizen more inclusive. He says if he can get someone hooked on a Moscow Mule, which he calls a "gateway cocktail," then he can start to teach them more about cocktails in general and share that same passion and excitement for craft cocktailing that initially hooked him.
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