The Libertine's mad cocktail scientist, Ben Bauer.
"Nick [Luedde] gives me carte blanche because we have such a good relationship. Really, we see eye to eye on everything," says Ben Bauer about his boss at the Libertine (7927 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton; 314-862-2999). "Well, there was that one time I wanted to do a cocktail with pig's blood. Yeah, he didn't go for that one."
A pig's blood drink may seem like an impossibly bizarre concoction, but Ben Bauer is not known for conventional beverage choices. Since coming on board at the Libertine as part of the opening team, Bauer has found himself in charge of creating one of the city's most unique cocktail programs. From housemade pineapple-duck fat cachaca to wormwood bitters, Bauer approaches his bar as more than a place to get a drink — he sees it as an extension of the kitchen.
Which makes sense in light of Bauer's original career plans. "All the way back when I was a little kid I wanted to be a chef," Bauer explains. "Even when I went to high school, I would tell everyone that I was going to go to the CIA [Culinary Institute of America] and life was going to be good. Then I got a job at Farmhaus where I did some back of house work during the day and serving at night. That's when I fell in love with the beverage side of things."
Bauer began researching cocktails, experimenting with unconventional flavors and making his own ingredients. He eventually signed on with the Libertine when it opened in 2013. He insists Luedde has been supportive of his tendency to do things out of the box, pig's blood aside.
Although, he admits, he hasn't given up the idea just yet. "It came about because I read about this guy in Japan who was washing glasses with bull's blood. Yeah, I really could've run with that."
Bauer took a break from the bar to share his thoughts on the St. Louis food and beverage scene, Korean barbecue and why it would be nice to be invisible.
What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
That's really difficult. I live my life like an open book — it’s weird what I find myself telling people behind the bar. I don’t know — I can spin trays and plates for really long periods of time. It comes from being bored when I started working in restaurants on the Hill. There was a lot of time spent doing nothing. You learn to entertain yourself.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
Even though I work really late hours, I still get up at seven every morning. I spend about an hour every morning scrolling the internet for cocktail articles I can read — but I never say no to a breakfast beer either.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Definitely invisibility. Sometimes you just want to click off and say, "OK, no one can see me anymore. Even behind the bar, sometimes I just want to make these 50 cocktails and not have anyone scream at me, or go to a bar and not have five people try to come up and talk.
What is the most positive trend in food, beer, wine or cocktails that you’ve noticed in St. Louis over the past year?
One trend I'd like to see go somewhere — I saw it a few years ago and it never really took off — is low-alcohol cocktails. From a service aspect, it's nice to give people multiple drinks and not get them hammered. Low-alcohol ones can have a super huge punch flavor-wise and are good when you want to drink but not get wasted.
Who is your St. Louis food or drink crush?
I’ve got so many because we really have a great scene here. Chelsea Little at Olive + Oak is crushing it. Their kitchen is too. I've had great dishes there that I wasn’t expecting. There's also a Korean joint on Olive called Joo Joo. It's freaking amazing and they have private karaoke rooms you can rent out. I also spend a lot of time at Sushi Station. It's rare that I go a day without visiting an establishment of some sort.
Who’s the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis food and beverage scene?
Jeff Moll [Randolfi's] is killing it. Chelsea Little is under the radar, but in no time, we'll all be talking about her.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
I know it sounds terrible, but it would be Fernet-Branca. It’s my constant drink of choice and is tattooed in giant letters across my belly. It's bitter, sweet, has a lot of depth to it and will knock you on your ass the next day for sure.
If you were not tending bar, what would you be doing?
Probably living in Vietnam trying to scrap together some sort of living and eating all the food I could.
Name an ingredient never allowed behind your bar.
I don’t think there’s anything I wouldn't allow. Everything can have its place so nothing is completely ruled out. Although I'm not going to buy sour mix when I can make it. Anything I can make my own, I'll just do it.
What is your after work hangout?
Late at night, Nick and I pull up a chair and let Naomi sling cocktails at us and drink until the sun comes up. Lately, I've been visiting Tom Halaska at DeMun Oyster Bar, but most nights are spent at the Libertine.
What’s your edible or quaffable guilty pleasure?
St. Paul sandwiches. I also really enjoy PBR and a shot of Old Grand Dad.
What would be your last meal on earth — including drinks of course.
It's a toss-up between eight bottles of soju and a bunch of Korean barbecue or my mom’s spaghetti and red sauce. I guess I could do both and just get everything.
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