The seemingly vast community of bartenders in the Valley is smaller than you might think; Greg Murphy got his start at Merc Bar, serving drinks alongside Simon Alam and Sean Snelling. He now crafts cocktails at Scottsdale's W Hotel (7277 E. Camelback Road, 480-970-2100), where he's been since the opening on September 5, 2008.
"I put the first bottle on the shelf," he says.
A cool, young, casual dude, Murphy gets around. You may see him in the Living Room, W's first-floor bar that blend modern and rustic décor (think bright pink and zebra-print love seats circled around tables made from tree stumps) with jazzy music and a relaxed atmosphere.
Other days he may be upstairs at Shade and Sunset Beach, outdoor bars catering to the livelier pool-going crowd. But wherever and whenever he is, he's always ready to mix a drink, strike up a conversation and have some fun with it.
How'd you get into bartending?
I started off as a server when I was 15. My first job was at an old folks' home.Later I served at Barcelona, then up in Flagstaff at a place called Forest Highlands, then at the Four Seasons. So as I grew up, I was always around four- or five-diamond places. I learned how to take care of people really well, but eventually I just got tired of serving because I saw these bartenders -- you know, people coming up, ordering four shots of Patron and tipping the bartender $8 while I was serving old ladies eight iced teas and getting less money. So I figured I'd try to switch over.
How'd you do it?
I went to the Merc Bar one day and said, "Listen, I just want to barback. I'll start my way at the bottom. I'm a hard worker. Throw me in any shift on any day and I'll work my way up. You won't be disappointed." From there, it took me a year and a half to move up. I've seen it all, and I've cleaned it all up.
Most bartenders seem to start as barbacks. Is it a lot of work?
It can be. You work the hardest and get tipped out the least. You're at the bottom, but if you want to make it to the top, you have to put your nose to the ground and work hard. If you do, you can be a bartender sitting there talking to girls, instead of cleaning trash cans and ash trays, you know?
What's different about working at W?
What's great about this place is we have four different bars. One day you could be scheduled in the Living Room, the relaxed downstairs area. The next day you could be up at Shade, where it's more of a party scene. We also have Sunset Beach, which has sand and is kind of like a dugout bar, and we have a mobile bar, which we roll out on Fridays and Saturdays. It's always a new angle. So instead of coming to the same bar every day and experiencing the same thing every day, you get different angles. You're almost being entertained.
Which bar do you prefer to work at?
I like them all. During the week, you have to be very service-oriented. These people are paying a lot of money for their rooms. On the weekends it's more like a party hotel, so you have to focus on getting your drinks out fast, and you don't focus on talking to customers. There are some days when it's slow and I'm like, I need this. You can sit back, get to know people. Other days, when you don't want to talk and you just want to crank it out, Saturdays come up and you've got your head in the well the whole night. I love it. The back and forth is nice.
Do you have any training in mixology?
I've just been in the industry so long. I've had a lot of good people teach me a lot of good things. Carson Quinn, who ran the Merc Bar, was an unbelievable bartender. He taught me a lot about mixology. Tom Georges, who used to work here, was also a great teacher who's been in the industry forever. I've just been fortunate to be around good people and pick up the best of their qualities and use them.
When you're mixing up a drink, how do you try to use everything you've learned?
It's almost like you're preparing a meal. You can't have all sweet ingredients; it's overpowering. You go to some bars and take a shot and it's like, whoa. Lay it off. You have to think about your entire palate.
Do you spend a lot of time mixing drinks outside of work?
On my downtime I drink Bud Light. Or Amstel Light, or wine -- I love wine. I don't go home and muddle up mojitos. Maybe, if my parents have a house party I'll show off a little bit.
What's different about mixing drinks for the four- and five-diamond customers, as opposed to your average weekend drinkers?
The thing about working here is it's "whatever, whenever." So whatever crazy requests any of our guests have, we're kind of at their beckon call. We're ready. If someone wants cupcakes at the bar, we run and get some from Sprinkles. If they want a new DVD that came out, we'll run out and go pick it up.
Do any of the hotel customers get a little crazy with their requests?
There was woman here today that asked a bartender to take off her shoes. That's outrageous. He didn't do it.
What's your favorite kind of customer?
The one that tips big and looks good! I also like people who are respectful, have their orders ready to go, and are cool. But I generally like all my customers. I can deal with them all. The coolest ones are the ones that become one of the guys really quickly, that you can kick back and talk sports with.
Word has, you're very popular. Why do you think that is?
Personality behind the bar. I like to have a lot of fun back there. I've also been around for quite a while, so people recognize me. I'm a good bartender. I like to keep things really clean. Coming from serving, you keep everything clean. Your table's clean, your area's set up -- everything's very efficient. That's how I am at the bar. When you go out to some places, you put your elbow on the bar and it's wet or sticky, and you see pools of liquor spilled everywhere. It's disgusting. I think people like that I take a lot of pride in what I do and I appeal to a wide range of people. I could talk to three 20-year-old girls or three fifty-year-old women. Plus, I make a killer drink.