Blood and Sand's Matt Osmoe.
Unless you count his dad's rustic, DIY blackberry wine, Matt Osmoe of Blood and Sand (1500 St. Charles Street; 314-241-72630)
did not have his first drink until he was 22 years old. He probably could have waited much longer, but catastrophe had just struck.
"I was living on campus, and the building I was staying in burned to the ground," Osmoe recalls. "My belongings, my work — I lost everything I owned. My friends told me I needed a drink, but they took me out for a round of skunky lager. I didn't understand why people drink this stuff. But then I discovered whiskey and my world changed."
A computer scientist by training, Osmoe had no plans to work in the service industry. During college, he worked a variety of jobs — fast food, a brake parts factory, tearing down and building houses. He even had a performance shop where he did race car modifications. After graduation, Osmoe got into the IT business where he worked for ten years. "I had a good job, a 401K, vacation, health insurance," says Osmoe. "I found myself thinking about what I would do in retirement to make me really happy, but finally I said 'Screw it. Why not make myself happy right now?'"
Osmoe initially got turned onto cocktails at the Royale, where he would get into the weeds with bartender Robert Griffin about every last detail of his drinks. That led to enrolling in an "Introduction to Bartending" course with Planter's House's Ted Kilgore, which gave him a jumping off point for teaching himself.
"I started doing it at home, and eventually, my kitchen table was covered in bottles," Osmoe says. "I signed up for the bartender's guild and started doing competitions. One of them got me some notice from Blood and Sand."
As a regular patron of the members-only restaurant and bar, Osmoe was already known to Blood and Sand's owners and bartenders. When they had an opening behind their bar, they asked Osmoe if he wanted to join the team on a trial basis. "At the time, I was consulting for the Navy, but I said 'Yeah, let's do this.'"
The career change was a big move, and Osmoe admits it's something his coal-miner dad would not necessarily approve of. "He always told us to get a job that provides for the family and doesn't wreck the body," he says. "But when you're doing something that doesn't make you happy, there's an emotional toll. Thinking about what I'm going to do when I retire — I feel like I am already retired."
Osmoe took a break from the bar to share his thoughts on St. Louis' vibrant food and beverage scene, why his mustache necessitates a firm handshake and his prediction for the essential hipster gear of 2018.
What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
I like a good old-fashioned handshake. Why are you trying to do a hand grasp with a pull away and a fist bump with me? I have a mustache mainly because I want people to see me and just assume that a handshake is the most appropriate manner in which to greet me.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
I function far better with art in my life: some music, poetry, an old book. Without art the day can feel lonely and unfulfilling.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
A rationality ray. I could fire it at people and in an instant they would be like, “Wait, why am I wearing this Trump shirt?!” On a side note, Make America Great Again shirts will be THE hot hipster item of 2018.
What is the most positive trend in food, beer, wine or cocktails that you’ve noticed in St. Louis over the past year?
The long slow slog away from vodka-tini drinks. We get it. You want to go from one to drunk in four glasses of vodka and chocolate syrup, and that’s fine. Just don’t make us be an accessory to your crime against societal progress.
Who is your St. Louis food or drink crush?
John Stefanski [Blood and Sand]. If I were to make a top ten list of cocktails I’ve tasted, his would take up most of that list. His has an amazing sense of balance, terrific creativity and never-failing consistency.
Who’s the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis food and beverage scene?
Everyone! Give local bartenders a chance to make something unexpected for you. Go see Kenny Snarzyk at the Crow’s Nest for a reassuringly tall pour of Old Crow. His bar presence is phenomenal. You’ll feel like you’ve been a regular for years. Stop in at the Libertine and drop your finger randomly upon the cocktail menu and have Ben Bauer make you whatever it may be. Grab something an old man wouldn’t shake his cane at you for ordering from Kyle Harlan and Tyler Baublitz at Mission Taco. Let Keyan Still or Ted[Kilgore make you something classically booze forward at Planter’s House. Visit my Amaro-loving compatriot Jeffrey Moll at Randolfi’s for a few glasses of joy. Visit Tim Wiggins at Retreat for a philosophical conversation as to the nature of cocktails. Then there’s Taste and the Preston and Publico and Olive + Oak and Reeds and Juniper and on and on. Explore what St. Louis has to offer. We have far too many empty bar stools in this town.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
If someone asked you to describe the current state of St. Louis’ food and beverage climate, what would you say?
Our bar scene punches above its weight. I’m ready for the day when people don’t come in from out of town, compliment me on how good the drinks are, then ask if I was a bartender in New York before coming to St. Louis. I’m ready for “Oh, you are going to St. Louis. The cocktails there are amazing!”
If you were not tending bar, what would you be doing?
I’d be a hermit living in the bluffs along the river, distilling and aging akevitt and gin with foraged ingredients. On most nights you’d find me sitting on the front porch in a rocking chair, whittling bar tools out of driftwood. I actually already have the rocking chair.
Name an ingredient never allowed behind your bar.
What is your after work hangout?
We’ll go to Mission Taco Joint in Soulard for late night eats. It’s nice to sit down at the bar across from Tyler or Kyle and just say "light" or "boozy" or "anything" and know they are going to take care of you. We go to Bridge sometimes too. I like that after a long night at work, exhausted, with a burnt-out palate, I can nurse a 4-ounce pour of some strong beer I’ve never heard of and the bartenders don’t raise an eyebrow.
What’s your edible or quaffable guilty pleasure?
Salty french fries and Busch beer.
What would be your last meal on earth — including drinks of course.
First, a La Quintinye Vermouth Royal and Nolet’s martini with some truffle gnocchi. Next, smoked herring, a nicely aged akevitt, and a Haandbryggeriet Haandbakk. Then pork and sauerkraut stew with sour cream, rye bread, and a liter of Civil Life Vienna Lager. For dessert, pecan pie and a heavy pour of Bruichladdich First Growth Cuvée A: Pauillac (Chateau Lafite) 16 year. Lastly, I’d have a #88 (Amaro Lucano, Averna, Rye whiskey, a bit of turbinado sugar and S. Maria al Monte, and a winter savory tincture).
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