The tender: Rich Heider II
The bar: The Casablanca Lounge (7134 E. Stetson Dr., 480-970-7888)
The pedigree: Heider was once a corporate bar trainer for Dave & Buster's, opening locations in Maple Grove, Minn., Times Square and Tempe. He helped open J&G Steakhouse, then became GM at a few Scottsdale nightclubs, then spent several years at BLT Steak, where he met Amar Patel of Magnum's Cigars. After discussing Patel's vision for The Casablanca Lounge and Rich's vision for running it, Amar offered Rich the job on the spot, and the rest is cocktail history.
So you guys just opened. How are things so far?
It's amazing. We've been open less than a week, and I feel like I've learned as much in the past two weeks than I did in the past two years. I've done openings before. This is about the fifteenth opening I've done, so this isn't new to me. But this many spirits behind the bar is different, and the scope of the projects I've done before are a lot bigger than this, with a lot more space and bigger staff. Everything's more specialized in the larger places. Here, we had to make it into what we wanted; it wasn't just a big square building we could convert into something. This was: do we want to hang this painting here or there? We spent two months talking about the paint, the decorations, what dresses the cocktail waitresses would wear. And it's still an ever-evolving thing. I hope we don't look exactly the same six months down the road.
I noticed the backlit menus and heard you'll be getting iPads soon to show guests info about all the liquors and wines on your menu. Very techno-savvy. Any other ways you guys are taking advantage of technology?
We're going to be doing weekly featured cocktails with YouTube videos -- we've got a couple up already, and they seem to be going over pretty well. I and the other bartenders will get in front of camera once a week to do a featured cocktail. It fills a couple needs. We want to let people know what we have on our menu, let them see what we're doing and give them idea of what the place looks like. And if they want to try these things themselves, they can. If someone comes in and likes a drink and asks how to make it, we can just tell them to check out our YouTube channel.
You trained bartenders for years at Dave and Busters, and now it seems like you're trying to train the public here. Is educating others something that's important to you?
I love educating people, and I love getting educated. We had a rep for Milagro come in just today to teach us about his stuff. I'll sit through his class every time he comes, and I'll always learn something new. Our philosophy is that we want to be able to educate people. We have trainings scheduled as often as we can. At least once a month, sometimes once a week, just so everyone gets knowledge of what's back there.
You have a pretty wide array of liquors behind the bar. How did you decide on the bottles?
One of the first questions people ask me is what I would carry and what I wouldn't at a perfect cocktail lounge. I would never carry Grey Goose, because I think it's an inferior product that's very market-driven. It's been in some rap videos and has a lot of big names supporting it. Like Ciroc, which I thought was a great product, but nobody knew what it was. Then all of a sudden P Diddy gets behind it, and everyone says, "Oh, I drink Ciroc." Perception is reality with liquor, so we want to educate people on why we don't carry certain things, not because it doesn't have its place in the world, but do I think Grey Goose is a good product at $50 a bottle? No. Do I think it's a good product at $20 a bottle? No, not really. We don't carry Patron either, to which people say, "You have to have Patron!" You don't have to have anything. You have to have running water, electricity and staff. The reason we don't carry Patron is they've changed their recipe so many times over the years. We carry Siete Leguas, which is the original recipe Patron. We like to have options for people. We don't avoid carrying Grey Goose or Patron because we're boycotting them or we think people shouldn't drink them. But we can't say that we want to educate people, then give them stuff that's taking a step backward.
What do you want your customers to feel when they leave here?
I don't have customers; I have guests. I want them to feel welcome when they come in here. I'm spending 8, 10, 12, 14 hours a day here; you are my interaction with the outside world. So I want them to have a good time so I can have a good time. I want them to feel like they had a great time whether they enjoyed their drinks or not, which I know sounds kind of weird. I think people will enjoy their drinks, but even if things weren't perfect, I want them to still have a great time. When I go out, it's horrible how bad the service is in Arizona. I feel like workers feel entitled at a lot of places. They think the customer is there to spend money and take care of them. It's the other way around; we're here to serve people. That's why it's called the hospitality industry.
How does Phoenix compare to other cities you've worked in?
The bartending talent in this town is among the best in the country. I'd say New York, San Francisco. If you throw Tucson in with Phoenix and Scottsdale, I'd say we're easily in the top ten, probably in the top five in the country. We have some amazing bartenders here. The talent's there, the people who enjoy it are there. Now it's just a matter of trying to grow it.
Desert island scenario: you've crashed and can only take six bottles. Which do you take?
Can I take ten? I would take -- I don't know if I would take a vodka at all. I'd definitely take Milagro Reposado, and Black Maple Hill 16-year bourbon, absolutely would be one and two. Green and yellow Chartreuse would be three and four. Man, we have so many bottles, I feel like I haven't picked anything expensive yet. I need to spoil myself a bit. I'd take Campari, because I need some Campari in my life. Maybe some Basil Hayden's, because it's a high rye content, to balance the Black Maple Hill. I'd probably take another tequila as well...Don Julio 1942. For myself, I wouldn't take a vodka, but just in case anyone else washed ashore, probably some Stoli Elite. Definitely need some gin; I'm going to go Tanqueray 10. If I'm on an island, I have to have rum. What rum shall I take? Man, this is tough. I'd probably go with El Dorado. And I think my tenth bottle would have to be...I think I'm going to have to go with a little Creole Shrubb. It's an orange liqueur that would go great with some of that other stuff.
What do you drink?
It's very depending on where I am and how I feel at the time. Am I eating? Am I not eating? If I'm going down to Herb Box, I might have a glass of wine or something lighter. I love my bourbon, I love tequila, I'm not huge into scotch but I'll drink it now and then. I'll also go to some places depending on which bartender is working at the time.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
Frank Sinatra would be cool. I met him when I was younger. James Dean, Audrey Hepburn. Of people who are alive? I think Derek Jeter would be cool to hang out with. He seems calm, has tons of money and beautiful girls around him. Even if I wasn't a Yankees fan, I think I'd be a fan of his.
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