Service Bar Chat with Cody Diehl

Redbreast Irish Whiskey

It’s clear that Cody Diehl has a passion for his craft. His enthusiasm for hospitality shines through unequivocally and has only been building since he started in the industry back in college. These days, you’ll find him honing his skills (and making lots of customers happy) at Cambridge’s Catalyst. Read on to hear his thoughts on bartender culture & which brands he thinks are doing a great job to reshape negative connotations, the spirit he first fell in love with and what time of year he always mixes up his mom’s (in)famous sangria.

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

I am currently the Beverage Manager at Catalyst Restaurant in Kendall Square. I started out my career with Hops N Scotch in Coolidge Corner and their Test Kitchen in Inman. I left that group to work with the Franklin Group, where I opened Our Fathers and worked at the Franklin Cafe.

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

My dad was a chef, so restaurants were never something that were foreign to me. Like most college students, I was balancing being an athlete and school, so I could only work nights and weekends. That’s when I got into the restaurant industry. I studied politics and international relations, and there are parallels between the two fields like culture, regionality, sustainability that really drew me in and kept me here.

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

My favorite drink to make is probably the Gypsy: gin, St. Germaine, green chartreuse, and lime. Dry, floral, and acidic, I think it’s my favorite drink all around. My least favorite is the French Martini. I think the Martini is such a beautiful, versatile, and simple drink. The French martini kind of bastardizes that.

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?

This question is an interesting one because I think it presumes that there’s an operational difference between a bartender and a mixologist, and I don’t necessarily think that’s the case. I think mixologist is a term that’s applied to more high end, avant garde bartending and there is definitely a place for that. Foams, infusions, tinctures, shrubs, mists, they’re all important and interesting but I do not think they’re the end all, be all. I think there’s a beauty in elevating a classic. We don’t always have to reinvent the wheel. I’m honestly ambivalent to the term, because I’ve been called a mixologist numerous times, but I also think that those who describe themselves as a mixologist are often arrogant. My job is to serve you an experience through a drink, not just drop a cocktail in front of you with 12 different ingredients that takes 15 minutes to make. There is nothing wrong with that, but I’ve spent most of my career in fast paced environments and I think the longer somebody waits for something, no matter how good it is, it influences their perceptions.

I definitely think that there is a bartender culture, and I think a lot of that has centered around late night food and drinking, but I love what brands like St. Germaine have started to introduce, healthy hospitality, where we unite over things like yoga, or even Campari’s day of service at the end of Negroni week. So I think there is a culture there, and I think it’s beautiful that brands are trying to shift the dialogue around our culture.

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?

On my days off you can probably find me at Parlour Brookline, formerly the Regal Beagle, having a Junipero and tonic. Or you can find me at Deep Ellum late night, snacking on their truffle Gorgonzola fries, or having a glass of Lambrusco at the Automatic. Although I love high life and fernet as much as everybody else, I think I’d rather be drinking a glass of Sancerre, or a gin and tonic or a Negroni with an obscure gin.

What do you always keep stocked at home? Are there different things you like to drink or to make for special occasions?

At my home bar you can almost always find a few nice bottles of Pinot Noir, some tequila so I can make my roommate a Paloma, and some Aperol for a spritz. I’m very much a seasonal drinker, I love dry and floral drinks in the summer and spirit forward and bitter drinks during the winter. For the holidays, you can always catch me making my mom’s infamous sangria.

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

I think that gin was the first spirit that I really fell in love with. Starting my career at one of the biggest brown liquor bars in the state, as a 20 year old, really shaped the way I thought of spirits and gin kind of broke all of those molds. Whiskey is so interesting because all of the regions…Islay, Highlands and so on…have such distinct flavor profiles, and then when you add in additional aging techniques, it kind of all follows a pattern. Gin is different because every gin is based on the botanicals you make it with. So many people say, “I don’t like gin,” and my argument is you don’t like tonic, or that gin is vodka with a personality. If you spend 15 minutes with me at my bar, I can promise you that I’ll make you like gin.

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?)

I wish that the average guest and the average person viewed restaurant hospitality jobs as “real” jobs. I think the average person doesn’t realize exactly what goes into making a menu, how strategic ordering works, that most restaurants have systems and protocols and trainings and so on. I also wish the average guest realized how much we truly do care and that we take this home with us. I have had countless nights where I’ve remembered “oh my god I forgot to get 137 their extra ranch” or “143 asked for a side salad and not fries” and we remember them days later and feel horrible about it. Our goal is to serve experiences, not just food or drinks, and all of us genuinely do want to make you happy.

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