Ryan Soranson was pouring drinks before he could even legally drink them -- Cartwright's in Cave Creek called him up to the big leagues behind the bar at the tender age of 20. The young 'un quickly proved that age is just a number, however, moving into a management position at the ranch house and, later, another leadership position at Eddie V's. He now employs his skills at the historic El Chorro Lodge (5550 E. Lincoln Dr., 480-948-5170), entertaining and supplying drinkers at one of the most picturesque patios in the Valley.
You started bartending when you were underage. What's it like being a bartender when you can't even drink the stuff you're serving?
It was interesting. You learn a lot at a young age. You learn how to put up with some guests who think you're just this young whippersnapper. As long as you can tame them, get them to stick around and stay in the stool, You have a good time. You just have to catch them off guard a little bit. Let them think they know everything, then if you come back at them with something they don't know, they get a little bit more respect for you.
You've worked at a few places throughout the Valley. What's different about El Chorro?
The atmosphere here is phenomenal. You can come out and just look at Camelback. It's beautiful, and it's an eclectic group that comes in. I have a regular who was Mr. Universe in 1942. He's got stories for days. It's the center of the Valley, so you get people from all over town.
How do you approach the process of making a cocktail for someone?
Basically, I think about how I would like my cocktail made. You don't want to skimp on the booze, for sure -- I know with me, I'd never send something back, but I've had times when on my next round I ask for a double. Including when you're muddling and building some of the more complex drinks, you just have to take your time with it. There are a lot of corners you can cut, but you just have to hold yourself back and know that people are going to love it, even if it takes an extra minute or two.
As a bartender, what do you drink when you're out?
I'm simple. It's either wine, whiskey or beer. If I'm playing golf, it's a double sapphire, splash of tonic, two limes; if it's cold outside, Knob Creek on the rocks. But I usually drink wine at home.
Beer, wine or cocktails?
Wine, no doubt. When I was at Cartwright's I was in charge of the alcohol and wine knowledge program, so I picked up a lot there. I need to renew my subscription to wine spectator.
What's the thing you love most about being a bartender?
I like talking to people. The difference between serving and bartending is that you're not in front of the table the whole time. If you find a guest you really like, it's nice to just sit there and entertain them. It's almost like you're on stage -- you're there to entertain the guests, keep them in the stools.
Is that a good thing?
Some days, it's hard to put a smile on. If you've been working a lot, it can take a lot out of you. But I enjoy it.
What's something you hate about the job?
Christmas Eve, Christmas Day -- having to work holidays. I've been in this business 11 years now, and I'm here every Christmas. My family has accepted it now, but I might be working Christmas Eve, and if the family's meeting in Prescott, I don't get up there until late, then I have to leave in the afternoon to work Christmas Day. It's just some of those special days that you'd like to spend with your family, but it's all part of the gig.
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What's the busiest night to for a bartender?
It's the night before Thanksgiving. It's insane. There's usually a couple thousand people here. I got here at 4 p.m. and we were five deep at the bar until we shut everything down at 1:30 a.m.
If you could choose any person to have a drink with, who would it be?
Just because I'm a wine snob, I'd have to say Robert Parker. He's the owner of wine advocate, and people say that he can taste any Bordeaux he's had throughout his life and name it. Everybody says his palate's going downhill, so I'd like to test him on some of those 2005 Bordeaux's he says are so classic. It would be nice to pick his brain.
What's been your most memorable night as a bartender?
The day after I turned 21. My birthday's on December 30, and I was behind the bar completely hung over on New Year's Eve. It was a rough night, but the best part was the look on the owners' faces when they figured out I had been working as a bartender and wasn't 21.