When Julia Tunstall first met her future husband, Chris, he was an experienced but frustrated bartender. From starting off at a craps table in Vegas, moving up to a fine dining behind-the-bar gig in Napa, and finally running the bar program at the acclaimed Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco, Chris had a knack for the hospitality industry. With a growing passion for craft cocktail creation, the frustration quickly creeped in when he realized how little information there was on the internet to educate aspiring mixologists like himself.
That's when the idea for A Bar Above came into play, a domain name which, as Julia tells me, Chris registered two weeks before asking her out on their first date.
As the saying goes, behind every great man is a great woman, and so that registered domain name sat unused while Chris found and married his great woman, Julia. In 2013 after buying a house, the two decided it was time to re-hash that idea from a few years back. While Chris built a home bar in their new basement, Julia took her small business tech and marketing background and learned how to create a website.
I sat down for a chat with Julia on how that website looks today, and to learn more about the very exciting online summit coming up in April:
It sounds like you're running the show behind A Bar Above, but tell me about the influence Chris had on the project, and what it was like to start a company together.
I think we work very well together because we have very different skill sets. Chris has always been our expert on hospitality, bartending skills and mixology. Meanwhile, I’m in charge of keeping the lights on - both the technical side with the website, managing our writers, and keeping up with all of our marketing efforts as well.
We like to provide advice for people aspiring to manage a bar. Is there any advice that Chris often gives to people entering the industry?
We’ve talked about getting started in the hospitality industry a couple of times on our blog and podcast, and the key thing that Chris always emphasizes is just how small of a world hospitality is. When you start, you may not know many people - but ten years later you’ll know just about everyone! The industry really is all about the people, so take care of each other, be good to the people you work with and go the extra mile. This includes the vendors that you work with as well.
For managers specifically, Chris has talked to me about how managing a bar is a very different skill set than being a waiter or a bartender. If you are interested in becoming a bar manager, it's important to develop your understanding of the business. You can do this through books and videos, but one of the best ways is to find a good manager and learn as much as possible from that person. There is nothing like finding a good mentor to accelerate your learning curve.
A funny or impactful story you’ve experienced since starting A Bar Above?
This is one of my favorite stories - and of course, it takes place at a bar! I was tagging along with Chris as he met with a spirits rep at a bar in San Francisco. We were all chatting and making conversation when a very tall (and very handsome) bartender leaned over, looked right at me and said, “Julia?”
If looks could kill, I don’t think that bartender would’ve survived Chris’ stare! Of course, I didn’t know the bartender at all - it turned out he recognized my voice from our podcast! He excitedly introduced himself to Chris and me and we had a good laugh. That was the first time anyone had recognized me at a bar and it was quite a surprise.
Tell us about A Bar Above's Summit in April. What are you hoping for attendees to gain from tuning in?
The Craft Bartender Summit is an idea we’ve been kicking around for a couple of years now. It all started the first time we went to Tales of the Cocktail in 2013 and wrote about it on our blog. We received several emails and comments from frustrated bartenders who said they wished they could go to great events like Tales, but simply didn’t have the budget or time off. (And we had the same problem - Chris had to take a week of unpaid leave and it was really hard to get his manager to agree!)
The Summit is our “solution." We’re getting six great industry experts to record seminar videos that we’ll play on the web on April 17th. The speakers will be watching too - and live in the chat box for questions as well. While we haven’t announced our Seminar topics yet, I can tell you I’m really focused on actionable, useful content.
My goal is for our attendees to take what they learn and do something differently in their very next shift - either to grow their skills, their career, or just make better cocktails.
I know Chris is the mixologist in the family, but have you picked up any cocktail-making skills of your own?
I believe that a bartender’s spouse is morally obligated to learn to make their husband / wife’s favorite cocktail! (After all, you might just be the one making them a drink if they had a rough shift!) For me, that meant learning to make Chris’ absolute favorite: a Rye Manhattan. Here’s the recipe:
- 2 oz Bulleit Rye
- ¾ oz Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
- 2 Dashes Angostura Bitters
- Garnish with a Maraschino Cherry
And what about your favorite drink?
Tough choice! Usually I drink whatever Chris puts in front of me (and I’m very happy to do it.) I will say one of my all-time favorites is a classic Dark & Stormy. Here’s my recipe:
Dark & Stormy
- 1 ½ oz Gosling’s Dark Rum
- ½ oz Lime Juice
- Fill with Ginger beer
Thanks for the great chat, Julia! We're extremely excited to share some of our actionable tips at the upcoming Craft Bartender Summit. Sign up here to reserve your spot on April 17th, and in the meantime, study up with our newest eBook: