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SXSW 2013 Review: Douglas Tirola’s ‘Hey Bartender’
Adam Frazier   |  @   |  

Hey Bartender at SXSW

Hey Bartender
Director: Douglas Tirola
Screenwriter: Douglas Tirola
Cast: Dale DeGroff, Dushan Zaric, Jim Meehan, Sasha Petraske, Julie Reiner, Steve Schneider, Steve Carpentieri, Graydon Carter, Danny Meyer, Amy Sacco

Synopsis: Two bartenders try to achieve their dreams through bartending. An injured Marine turns his goals to becoming a principal bartender at the best cocktail bar in the world. Featuring the world’s most renowned bartenders and access to the most exclusive bars in New York, this is the story of the comeback of the cocktail and the rebirth of the bartender. — 4th Row Films

“The culture of drink endures because it offers so many rewards… above all the elusive promise of friendship and love”Pete Hamill

At Employees Only in New York City, craft bartender Steve Schneider concocts fancy cocktails like the Mata Hari: Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac shaken with Chai-Infused Italian Vermouth & Pomegranate Juice, served straight up. Here the bartender is the royalty of the working class – a mixologist and mad scientist held in the same regard as the top chefs in the city.

In Westport, Connecticut, however, everyman Steve Carpentieri slings cheap beers and Rumple Minze shots to patrons at a hole-in-the-wall bar named Dunville’s. There are no $16 cocktails – no Jalapeño-infused Green Chartreuse or muddled ginger root – just the owner of a small business struggling to survive.

Director Douglas Tirola‘s documentary Hey Bartender examines the world of cocktail bars and craft bartending with commentary from Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter, Queen of New York Nightlife Amy Sacco, and the King of Cocktail, Dale DeGroff. As part of SXSW’s Documentary Feature Competition, Hey Bartender is a well-made, insightful documentary that explores two sides of the same coin.

While big-name headliners like Evil Dead (or in past years: Source Code, Cabin in the Woods, 21 Jump Street, Paul) get most of the SXSW spotlight, I enjoy checking out the smaller, lesser-known documentaries like Brooklyn Castle, Seeking Asian Female, and The Imposter. Hey Bartender definitely falls into that later category; a rewarding, under-the-radar doc that deserves more coverage.

Best known for his films All In: The Poker Movie and An Omar Broadway Film, Douglas Tirola is quickly putting together an impressive catalog of documentary features that reveal the details of “members only” institutions (prison, poker, bar culture).

It takes years to make documentaries – and sometimes hundreds of hours of film has to be studied and considered in finding the story and crafting it. Ultimately, the subject matter has little to do with the success of a documentary – it’s more about how the filmmaker puts the story together.

In the case of Tirola’s latest film, the story gives the viewer a crash-course in the history of bartending (a documentary in itself) before focusing on two bartenders on opposite sides of the spectrum. The film features tons of experts and legendary drink-makers, but seems to skimp on the drinks themselves. It would have been interesting to see more focus given to mixologists and how some of these drinks were conceived – the mad science of creating cocktails.

Still, Hey Bartender is an entertaining, informative introduction to the world of craft bartending – which is a fancy way of saying “high-end expensive alcoholic beverages.” This would be the perfect kind of film to watch at a theater like the Alamo Drafthouse or Cinebarre where one can imbibe spirits and be an active participant in the story.

Hey Bartender made its world premiere this weekend at SXSW; 4th Row Films announced today that the film will now open in select cities on June 7, 2013.

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