Ryan Pier is serving out-of-this-world cocktails at Earthbound Satellite.
When Ryan Pier tells people the name of one of the first bars he tended, he braces for the razzing that always follows.
"Shenanigans. I worked at a place called Shenanigans in Edwardsville," Pier laughs. "Anytime I bring up the story, people laugh and go into a Super Troopers quote. It was a lot of things — probably where I perfected my car-bomb game."
Shenanigans was just over the river, but it's a far cry away from cutting-edge Earthbound Satellite (1921 S. 9th Street),
the Soulard bar Pier just launched with his colleagues at Earthbound Beer. However, Pier is not ashamed of his less-than-hip beginnings. In fact, he embraces them as the very foundation of his understanding of what a bar should be.
That education predates his bartending days, going all the way back to his childhood in Lebanon, Illinois. There, his grandfather owned one of the two bars in town, and Pier would often hang out there. By age eight, he was helping out around the tavern, washing dishes or pitching in with whatever was needed. As soon as he was old enough, he began helping out with fish fries and backing up the bartenders. The experience had him hooked on the industry.
Though Pier dabbled in history and psychology classes in college, he realized that a formal classroom education was not his path and threw himself into working in restaurants, first at a Chevy's in Edwardsville and then Shenanigans. During that time, he realized that he had a passion for beer, so he headed across the river with dreams of working for a brewery.
Those dreams would be realized when he got a job working for Schlafly, then for Earthbound Beer. He also began bartending at Cherokee Street's Art Bar, an experience that would make him realize how much he enjoyed making cocktails beyond the carbombs and Fireball shots that, up to that point, had defined his bartending career.
As Pier spent more and more time with the Earthbound folks, he found his niche. Their penchant for experimentation led them to make some of the city's quirkiest — and delicious — beers. It was an environment that appealed to him.
"Earthbound is always open to new ideas and recipes and always wants their employees to grow," Pier explains. "They gave me free rein to come up with my own ideas and experiment. I was able to batch my own weird takes on things."
When the Earthbound team was approached by the group behind Soulard Preservation Hall to take over the space's small bar, Pier was the obvious choice to lead the project. "We just thought I had the most experience with it," Pier says. "We agreed we wanted it to be an educational bar with flavor profiles and weird liquors for people to taste that they wouldn't normally taste in Soulard."
That project, Earthbound Satellite, is Pier's chance to do something completely cocktail focused, and he is embracing the opportunity. Calling the new place "a dive bar in space," Earthbound Satellite is based on Futurism, an early 1900s art movement that challenged Italy's established cocktail norms. As Pier explains, the bar draws heavily on his love of amaro and bold flavors that will push patrons to rethink traditional cocktails.
At its heart, though, Pier insists Earthbound Satellite is a place where people should feel comfortable to come and engage with the bartenders and their fellow patrons, in spite of its quirky offerings and experimental drink focus. For him, that's ultimately what a bar is — an observation gleaned from his grandfather's bar and something he reminds himself of every time he goes back home for a ice-cold Stag.
"I've learned the bar is a cheaper version of therapy," Pier says. "My main thing is I like to make people happy."
Pier took a break from the bar to share his thoughts on turning water into wine, his decidedly un-ironic mustache and why a simple cheeseburger, a Stag and some gummy candy are all it takes to make him happy.
What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
My face looks really weird when it’s clean-shaven. I grow a mustache out of necessity because I can’t grow a beard.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
My morning cup of coffee and cigarette on my front porch. I’m not super fancy when it comes to coffee. It's usually just a regular drip cup of Cafe Bustelo.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
That’s a tough one. Maybe something biblical like turning water into wine.
What is the most positive trend in food, beer, wine or cocktails that you’ve noticed in St. Louis over the past year?
I’ve really enjoyed seeing an increase in handcrafted “mocktails” and other well-made non-alcoholic options. I’m all about inclusion in bar/pub life and think that even if alcohol isn’t your thing you can still experience the enjoyment of an imaginative flavorful drink in a fun atmosphere. Shout-out to my friends at the Monocle, who do this really well.
What is one thing missing or that you’d like to see in the local food and beverage scene?
Probably more local distilleries. We’ve got some pretty great ones already, don’t get me wrong, but I would love to us have more.
Who is your St. Louis food or drink crush?
Oh man, so many to choose. I probably have to say Naomi Roquet over at Reeds American Table. Her cocktails are always works of art, and they make me feel things.
Who’s the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis food and beverage scene?
I’m always paying attention to Ari Jo Ellis, chef and owner of the Cut on Cherokee, who's making the best meat things and whose menu always makes me salivate.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
Probably Fernet. It’s got a wide range of different uses, strange flavors, and it can often be bitter.
If someone asked you to describe the current state of St. Louis’ food and beverage climate, what would you say?
I think it’s one of the best in the country. There’s such a wide range of wonderful people doing great things in this town. The amount of local business owners who continue to take chances and follow their dreams with great passion is heartwarming.
If you were not tending bar, what would you be doing?
Probably bouncing around different patios and businesses on Cherokee seeing all my friends.
Name an ingredient never allowed behind your bar.
I've never liked outrageously flavored vodkas! There is no room for Mountain Dew or S’mores-flavored nonsense behind there.
What is your after-work hangout?
You can usually find me having a Stag and fernet at the Whiskey Ring after a long day.
What’s your edible or quaffable guilty pleasure?
I’m not a huge sweets or chocolate fan, but I do have a soft spot for any type of gummy candy.
What would be your last meal on earth — including drinks, of course?
A nice simple cheeseburger and a cold Stag at my grandfather’s bar, Ron’s Lounge.
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