Past the unassuming front door and the cozy lounge area, the actual eating space of Citizen Public House (7111 E. 5th Ave., Scottsdale, 480-398-4208) is vast, interspersed by tables and booths between walls decorated with aged photos of the restaurant owners' ancestors. In the center of it all, an expansive bar accented by sleek metal and a glorious tree of liquor commands attention, and at the helm is Richie Moe.
If you made a list of the bartenders in this town who know their shit, Moe's name would undoubtedly be near the top. He's been in the business for more than 15 years, having bounced around quite a few bars in Tempe -- including Palapa and Have a Nice Day Café -- before being recruited for a long-term stay at Cowboy Ciao. There he met Chef Bernie Kantak, whom he partnered with to open Citizen, which opened Saturday.
How did you get into bartending?
I was actually raised in the bar business. My dad's a bar owner, restaurant owner, kind of a little bit of everything. He worked for a lot of corporate places as well. I was pretty much raised in a stroller at the end of a bar, so it's kind of second nature to me. I was always in love with the restaurant business, so I just kept doing that. I just really found a passion for bartending and kept with it.
I just like the personal aspect of it. I was a server for quite some time before I was a bartender, but I kind of like that two-and-a-half feet of separation. It's kind of like they lock you in a room and tell you to go crazy. That's what I'm all about -- put me in a room with booze and tell me to go nuts. The one rule to bartending is there are no rules. If you think some ingredients might not go together, you'll never know until you try it. I've done a lot of work with a lot of chefs and a lot of other bartenders, but the most important people you have are the ones on the other side of the bar. They're the little lab rats that you can try stuff on.
What's one thing most bartenders in this city do wrong?
The general thing I see most everybody doing wrong is customer service. A simple handshake, a hello, general concern for what people want in a restaurant -- that's what I feel a lot of people out there could do better. Asking questions, getting a general idea out what people want rather than just throwing a drink at them and hoping they're content with it. Make sure people are happy from the time they walk in to the time they leave. Also, I had some great teachers. I was trained by several classically trained bartenders, which in my opinion a lot of people don't get. They don't have the basics. Anybody can go out there and make a vodka tonic or crack a beer. But actual product knowledge is really what's going to take you to the next level. If I'm going to do this for a living, I really want to know what I'm doing, so I'm going to dig deep into how the drinks are made, what they're made with, etc.
How do you share that knowledge?
I like to learn as much about a product as possible. I like to learn where it came from, who's making it, the story behind it. For example, St. Germain, an elderflower liqueur. The father of the guys who make those had this giant liquor company and gave a bunch of money to them, basically saying, "Here, start your own company." Since then they've both done very well with their products. To know little stories like that is a great topic of conversation for people.
What's your least favorite thing about bartending?
Cleaning! I can't stand doing glassware. I can't stand cleaning, but it's something I deal with because I love what I do.
Are you a fan of the classic cocktails, or are you more of a new-age kind of guy?
I don't discriminate. I try to think of where it fits into the general realm of cocktails. Sometimes I'm in the mood to have something to sip by the pool, so I'll have a lemon drop or sangria. If I'm looking to get a good start to the night, I might drink a negroni or something that has more classic flavors to it.
Is there something special about your cocktails that sets them apart from others?
I think people that come to me for drinks just kind of know that I like to think outside the box. I have no problem using any out-there ingredients. I've used stuff like Jamaican jerk spices to prickly pears. There are no rules, so I try to think of flavors nobody else has thought of. At the end of the day, crazy different flavors can live together, it's just about finding the appropriate way for them to do it.
What's the craziest drink you've made lately?
I've gone as far as putting red onion in a cocktail before. I'm a big whiskey fan, and the other day we made a Jameson cocktail with ginger ale, cucumber water, crushed red pepper and the smallest amount of red onion, which gives it a little bite. That was one of the coolest drinks I've made that I've tried in a long time.
Do you design your drinks based off the food menu?
Being that Bernie and I have worked together before, I'm extremely confident in his food. If I could pick any chef in town to work with, it would've been him. Our palates complement each other very well; he has a good understanding of the drinks I make and I have a good understanding of the food he cooks. We never do this, but we trust each other so much we could write a menu without ever tasting the stuff.
It seems the bar is really the centerpiece of this restaurant. Is that your influence?
That's why we kept the infrastructure of this place. It definitely breaks up the restaurant, and the first thing you see when you're walking by outside or when you walk in is the nice, lit-up bar. It's really attractive, and there are a lot of fun toys for us to work with back here. We have blowtorches, we have a juicer --our new thing is playing with the juicer, throwing in everything you can think of, from basil to carrots to plums -- we have immersion blenders and all kinds of other stuff. It's basically a big playground.
What do you drink when you're out?
A lot of the bars I'll go hang out at are a little simpler than this place. There aren't as many toys and there's not as much labor-intensive cocktailing, but that's humbling to me because it's a nice break. I'll have scotch on the rocks, a shot of Jameson with a cocktail on the side. With dinner I'm definitely drinking a glass of wine. I try to keep it simple when I go out because that's my time to be away from what I do. My favorite drink right now is a bit of lemonade with sweet tea vodka and a fresh splash of iced tea over the top -- the John Daly.
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