Raising the Bar with Sean Muldoon
HRNI talks to the local bartenders making it big in the global cocktail scene. Following on from Jack McGarry last month, we talk to Sean Muldoon, managing partner of the world’s best bar, The Dead Rabbit and Blacktail, both in NYC
Sean Muldoon, managing partner of The Dead Rabbit and Blacktail
El Presidente Cocktail
HOW DID YOU START OUT IN THE BAR TRADE?
I started out in 1993 working in a few bars in Belfast City Centre; the Regency Hotel which was on Botanic Avenue, and Chicago Pizza Pie Factory which was on Bankmore Square. Originally I got involved in the industry to fund a music project that I was working on. I also wanted to travel and thought that bartending might enable me to do that.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
I grew up in Ardoyne in North Belfast during very turbulent times in Northern Ireland’s history, and I left school at 16 with no qualifications whatsoever. I was unemployed for long periods of time throughout the following years, and those were amongst the darkest days of my life. But I always believed in myself, and believed in dreaming big.
I was always inspired by the rags to riches stories of famous people when I was growing up; people like Elvis Presley, Richard Branson and Kirk Douglas. The underdogs. The people who had to fight hard to get where they are. I never looked up to any of those who were born with silver spoons in their mouths. I watched these people on TV, I read all about them, and I fully identified with them.
I knew there were two choices I could make – one was stay in Belfast, get an honest trade, marry, settle down, and do what my father and his father before him did; the other was to take the road less travelled and follow the same path that the people I had read about travelled. That road meant being single minded, not listening to anybody, taking chances and totally going for broke.
I decided to take a chance and go with the second option.
WHO DO YOU ADMIRE IN THE NI BAR TRADE?
To be honest, the cocktail bartenders who I most admire in the Northern Ireland bar trade have all left to go and work elsewhere. However if you were to ask me to name a person not involved in cocktails that I most admire, then that person would have to be Willie Jack of the Duke of York. That man has got vision, and he fully believes in the City of Belfast, the Irish Pub and the Irish Whiskey category. And for that, I think he rocks!
WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED IN YOUR CAREER?
We have faced countless challenges since coming to America. The biggest was probably getting the bar open, to be honest. We had so many delays and were at one point actually worried that the bar might never open. This period of time was so stressful I thought I was having a heart attack and signed myself into the nearest hospital. (Ends up I had acid reflux brought on by stress, but that is another story for another time).
Then, just as things were making headway, Hurricane Sandy came along and knocked the stuffing right out of us. The entire Financial District where we the bar is located was wiped out; all the high rise office and residential towers, all the shops, bars and restaurants were abandoned. There was very little left intact. The storm delayed our opening by a further four months and it ends up we were the first new bar or restaurant to open in the area after Sandy. We opened on a snow storm, in a practically deserted neighborhood!
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE A BAR PERSON WITH ASPIRATIONS?
Exactly as I said before: read the stories of the underdogs that made it in whatever walks of life they excelled in, and aspire to be just like them. Dream big, don’t let anybody ever put you off, and fully believe in yourself. You are no different than any of these other people, and you can do what they did if you learn to focus properly. Luck will intervene when it’s time for it to intervene, but do all the necessary groundwork first.
Aspire to be the best. Find out who the best is. Work for the best. Be better than the best. That’s exactly what I did.
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