Clint Manning at Canteen

​Having been open a scant two months, Canteen Modern Tequila Bar (640 S. Mill Ave., 480-773-7135) is still the new kid in town, though it sure doesn't seem like it. One glance at the line snaking out the door of the tequileria each weekend will have you thinking the place has been a Tempe staple for years. Behind this quickly-earned popularity is Clint Manning -- manager, mixologist and bartender at Canteen. Having spent time at both The Keg and La Bocca, Manning built up a wealth of knowledge that he employed to craft a thoughtful and delicious menu of tequila-based cocktails that's kept the crowds swarming in since Canteen opened two months ago. Moving about the bar's repertoire of 124 tequilas, the young, scruffy Manning displays an enthusiasm for the job that you can taste with each sip of his glorious margaritas.

How did you get into bartending?
I started nine years ago. I got lucky; I started right when I turned 19, which is the earliest you can do it in Arizona. I was a server at a restaurant, a position opened up, and it was always something that was on my list of things I wanted to do. I got into it and fell in love with it. Years later I got into the mixology, using the fresh juices, buying cocktail books, things of that nature.

Why was it something you always wanted to do?
I've always been into food and cooking. I really like the culinary aspect of drink-making. And I certainly enjoy drinking, so it kind of went hand in hand.

How did you involve yourself in mixology?
I was the head bartender at The Keg in Chandler for five years; it started there. They had a lot of regulars and people who liked their drinks particular ways. I began eventually just trying to make my own drinks. They had a huge selection of alcohol and they gave me a lot of liberty to experiment, so it was a perfect playground.

How have you carried those skills into this job?
The thing I'm most proud of about the Canteen and what we've done with the cocktail menu is how high-volume we are. We sell about 500 margaritas on a Friday or Saturday night, and they're all made fresh. We fresh-squeeze our own juice, we use our own simple syrup and 100 percent agave tequila; it's a quality house margarita, and it comes out tasting fantastic every time. I'm proud of the way they turn out.

How do all those changes affect the taste of a margarita?
If you go anywhere else on Mill, they're going to use some sort of pre-bottled lime juice. It makes a huge difference. You should have a margarita here and go across the street. Let me know how that turns out.

How do you go about developing drinks to be placed on a cocktail menu?
I have a bar at my house. I bought a lot of tequila; I went through probably 30 or 40 bottles while having my friends over and making different cocktails for them. I have a library of about 30 mixology books and I'd literally go through and make every recipe from each book. You put your own spin on drinks by tweaking little amounts. The recipe we use for our house margarita isn't in any book; it's one that I made up. Basically it comes from making a ton of margaritas until you find the right one.

How many bottles do you have at your house bar?
Over 50. It's actually not a bar in the classic sense; it's a bookcase I have in my room that holds all my books and bottles. But people still love coming over.

So even when you're not here, you're still bartending. 
I definitely take my work home with me. Lately I've been into pre-prohibition cocktails, but I don't get much chance to sell those here. We don't even have the ingredients to make stuff like that.

What do you drink when you're out?
I love gin. Gin is my favorite alcohol of all time. I love tequila as well, but typically I'll drink gin on the rocks or a gin martini.

What do you like most about the job?
Hearing what people are saying about the drinks and having someone really enjoy a well-balanced drink. People have margaritas at bars all over the valley, and we get a ton of people in here who say they don't like margaritas. But then they try one of mine, and it's fresh and well-balanced and they can taste every ingredient. I love that. It's just something that I'm fortunate to do. I'm passionate about this and I get paid to do it. So I'm very lucky.

Check back tomorrow for a drink recipe.

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Zach Fowle
Contact: Zach Fowle