Like plenty of folks around these parts, John Marano came to Boston for school and stuck around after. Since then he’s become a familiar face in the dining room and behind the bar at spots like Grotto on Beacon Hill and, more recently, Barcelona Wine Bar, where he’s been shaking up cocktails and pouring wine for the last three years. Below he shares his musings on what he loves about being behind the bar, what kind of wines he’s craving now that the weather is warming up and his very straightforward cocktail philosophy.
Where do you work now? What’s your position? Where else have you worked?
I am a bartender and Sommelier at Barcelona Wine Bar South End and Brookline. I have been with the company for a little more then three years. Shaking up cocktails at night, tending to our beautifully procured wines and assisting in the education of our wine and beverage service. As our name implies, we’ve got a huge wine program – one of the biggest in the U.S. for Spanish wines.
How did you get involved in restaurants (and, specifically, bartending)? What draws you to this line of work?
I was a sixteen-year-old classical music nerd and New York transplant living in Florida looking for somewhere to make money, fit in and do something for me that was fulfilling (more like “foodfilling”). Before moving to Boston for college, I worked in my neighborhood’s most popular pizza shop after school days and in the summers I would wine steward and help tend a wine bar.
Nine years later, I was serving at Barcelona Wine Bar and felt so hungry to take the next step to become a bartender, which my management and friends told me would happen soon. To my surprise I got a call early in the morning from one of my managers, “Marano, are you ready to be thrown under the fire?” It was a defining moment where my long marinating hunger to shake a cocktail and pour some txakoli wine from up high on the top of the bar could be unleashed.
What’s your favorite drink to make (or wine or beer to pour)? Least favorite?
Spring makes me crave a red that is something fresh and unique like a Mencia from Reibera Sacra. The reds from this part of Spain are like biting into a succulent pomegranate with hits of licorice and beautiful minerals. My favorite cocktail to make is one of my own, which is a cognac sour with grapefruit juice, accents of Royal Combier, Angostura and fresh pineapple named “The Kinky Princess”. My least favorite drink in general to make is a vodka and water – I really enjoy making more complex cocktails that have a distinct flavor profile.
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?
The mixology movement is just progress, and I celebrate it. For me as a diner and service member bringing more creativity to the table is the most important thing. Listening to my peers and having their support as I try new techniques is a vital resource. I feel there are many levels to what one could call “bartender culture” and I think that is a very good thing.
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. What about you?
Living in New England I find myself a weather driven creature. I do have spots that I go to regularly, which tend to have both character and characters. I’m always trying something new, but a Ketel One and soda with an orange and a lemon wedge is always close to my heart.
What do you always keep stocked at home? Are there different things you like to drink or to make for special occasions?
Typically in my fridge, there is some kind of juicy fruit sour or New England IPA. The Minibar? An array of gin and Sherry. I consider it a special occasion when I feel inclined to pop the cork off a wine bottle, throw a speed pourer on it and then Porron! That is if a physical porron is handy — it’s that Spanish drinking vessel that is sort of like a glass watering can for your mouth.
Are you excited about one spirit in particular? Are there any spirits that you find to be overrated or underrated?
Vermouth and Montenegro! Only excitement. I don’t really find drinks overrated, if it’s your drink, you drink it.
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 honestly enjoy the mystery and dazzle of bartending. There is a magic behind that moment when an absolutely delicious beverage is placed before you. Whether the spectacle of flare is at play, or you were just given the best glass of wine of your life that you never heard of before, or maybe it is just a particularly crispy cold glass of beer poured just perfectly. Let the magician perform and transport you.