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.