Service Bar Chat with Carmelo Bari

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Carmelo Bari has deep roots in hospitality. Aside from a short-lived desire to become a firefighter, he’s been working in and around restaurants since he started out bussing tables as a teen, and he’s never looked back. Now, with his newest concept Sulmona near Central Square, he’s partnering with chef Delio Susi to serve Northern Italian cuisine. He shares his red wine go-to (the perfect indulgence during a snowstorm), his favorite way to serve a dirty martini and what makes a great tasting cocktail.

Where do you work now?  What’s your position? Where else have you worked in the last five years?

I’m the General Manager/Owner of Sulmona Restaurant, where I work pretty heavily on the bar program, specifically with cocktails. I was previously the General Manager of BOND at The Langham Hotel in Boston.

Briefly, how did you get involved in restaurants (and, specifically, bartending)?  What draws you to this line of work?

I don’t know anything but the hospitality industry. My first job was working as a bus boy at 14 years old at a small Italian restaurant in Malden, MA. I tried my hand at college and studied fire arson investigation – I wanted to become a firefighter. During my first year in college, I was working as a bartender and decided then that hospitality was my path. I dropped out of college and worked my way up to becoming a manager. Eventually, I got my culinary arts degree from Boston University.

What’s your favorite drink to make (or wine or beer to pour)?  Least favorite?

A dirty martini is my favorite, because I love them so much. Even though a classic martini is stirred, I like mine shaken and only single strained.  I love the crisp flavor of the ice cold vodka, the little ice crystals and the saltiness of the olive juice. People may think I’m crazy, but I truly don’t have a least favorite drink to pour. If the guest is asking for it, that means they like it. There is a flavor out there for everyone.

How do you feel about the ‘mixology’ movement—does that term appeal to you, not appeal to you? What do you think it means to be involved in the bartender culture, if you agree that there is one?

I’m not a huge fan of that term. My favorite part of the industry is being around food, drinks, and people. As long as you have love, passion, and pride in anything you do it will always turn out well (including cocktails!)

On your days off, what kind of places do you frequent? A lot of industry folk are happier with a Miller High Life and a Fernet than composed cocktails or craft beer. You?

My family and I actually really like the Border Café – after Italian, my favorite food is Mexican. I always get the steak fajita with jambalaya. The atmosphere is always vibrant and fast, which makes for a great time. Mexicali makes a great burrito, too! As far as drinks go, I’m happy with a dirty martini or a Miller Light. Not too hard to please! 

What do you always keep stocked at home? Are there different things you like to drink or to make for special occasions? Snow storms, sick days, having friends over, drinks for dinner, etc 

In my house, we always have red wine, Peroni, and vodka. My wife and I love red wine – our go-to is the Belpoggio Brunello Di Montalcino. It goes so well with all of the hearty foods you would eat during a snowstorm. If I see a storm coming, I grab some fillets, maybe some ingredients for a chili, and a bottle of Brunello. 

Are you excited about one spirit in particular?  Is there something really overrated or underrated, in your opinion?

I am always learning, especially through developing the cocktail program at Sulmona. In searching for a new, balanced cocktail, I have learned that each spirit has its own great purpose. We keep a wide variety on our menu – from gin and vodka to bourbon and tequila. There’s always a little something for everyone.

What’s something you wish the average guest knew about your job—not service-wise, but related to the craft of bartending. (In other words, apart from common courtesy and being a good guest, what’s something you think everybody should know about bartending?)

To have a great tasting cocktail, each and every ingredient needs to be specific. Clean measurements and pours are one of the most important things a bartender can focus on.

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