Phil Lockett has two passions in life: music and bartending.
If you want a peek at how Phil Lockett has straddled two alternate universes, all you have to do is listen to him talk about a recent exchange with his boss, Terry Oliver, at Frazer's Restaurant & Lounge (1811 Pestalozzi Street, 314-773-8646)
"I'd just come back from tour and was at Frazer's polishing some glassware when Terry just looked at me," Lockett recalls. "He said, 'Man, two days ago, you were in Ukraine playing in front of 25,000 people, and here you are polishing glasses.' I said, 'Yeah, that's my life.'"
Many people in the service industry juggle restaurant jobs and music gigs. But few balance bartending by touring with bands that are big enough to draw massive crowds. The juxtaposition might seem jarring, but for Lockett,
who's played with the popular metal bands the Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza and Emmure, it's the natural outgrowth of being someone with two strong passions.
His first love, music, goes back to his days as a little kid listening to his mom's vinyl. She immediately recognized his passion and encourage him to find the instrument that spoke to him. When he was in high school, he discovered the bass, and threw himself headfirst into learning how to play. Before he knew it, he was playing in bands and enjoying a successful run as a musician.
Everything in his life was secondary to music, but in between tours, Lockett found himself back in town with too much down time for his taste. His friend, Carrie Harris, was part owner of the Crack Fox, and he went to the downtown bar one night to say hello. He left with a job.
"When I got there, she was sweating and in the weeds," Lockett recalls. "I told her that I didn't care if she paid me. I just wanted her to give me something to do."
Harris took him up on his offer and Lockett was soon learning to bar-back, also serving as the bar's handyman and maintenance guy. Eventually, Harris trained him behind the bar, where he instantly fell in love with everything about the craft.
Lockett loved his Crack Fox family, but after leaving for a tour and then returning to town, he decided to leave the nest for Flamingo Bowl, the Way Out Club and eventually Sanctuaria, a bar he describes as "the biggest box of crayons in the city to play with." He yearned to soak up all the knowledge he could from the pioneering cocktail bar, and he made good on that vow, catching the eye of acclaimed barman Tony Saputo at the neighboring Layla.
Lockett went to work for Saputo, and began to think of bartending as something more than a way to make money between tours. With Saputo's encouragement, he joined the United States Bartenders Guild and got even more serious about the industry. He also wanted to take on additional bartending gigs, so when Saputo suggested he check out Frazer's, he decided to give it a try. It turned out to be an eye-opener.
"It's a very different style of bartending than I've done before," Lockett says. "Terry [Oliver] has a unique way of creating and executing drinks and wants people to be customer-service oriented, engage, and make people feel at home and like a friend. If I sharpened my bartending knife at Sanctuaria, I really honed it at Frazer's."
Being at Frazer's — and now at the new downtown barbecue joint the Midwestern (900 Spruce Street, 314-696-2573)
as well — has not only helped Lockett with his craft, it's made him rethink his priorities. With changes in the music scene making it difficult to eek out a living, he decided it was time to shift his attention.
"I had to make a hard decision, but I had to walk away from touring," Lockett says. "After fifteen years, everything was secondary to it — friendships, relationships, jobs. Bartending had always been on the back burner, but now I've decided to switch that and have it be my main focus. It's cool to know that there are still opportunities when I want to go back to music, but for now, I want to set fire on this bartending career."
Lockett took a break from the bar to share his thoughts on the St. Louis food and beverage scene, his struggles with being an introvert and the bartending dream team he'd assemble if the world depended on it.
What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
Well, it may be a bit obvious (or completely misunderstood), but I’m almost cripplingly introverted. I had anxiety attacks just from walking through the crowds in high school in between periods. I’ve developed a screen over time, though, through years of touring in bands and bartending. So, as long as I have that space between you and me, we’re good. If I seem vapid or distant, PLEASE do not be offended.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
Coffee. As I love to say at my two current venues, “This is for your protection as much as my enjoyment!”
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
This is funny. I have a superpower list for my friends and favorite bartenders. Ted Kilgore, St. Louis cocktail godfather, you already win (you don’t count!). Tony Saputo, probably the best balanced drinks in the city. Jeffrey Moll, amaro extraordinaire. Matt Seiter and the OG Sanctuaria Crew, bringing it to the masses. Terry Oliver, master of texture (and more OCD than I ever could be/am!). Carrie Harris showed me the ropes, but more importantly, showed me what it meant to run a super clean, efficient bar and the importance of what it is to be apart of a crew/family. Doc and Godfather (Josh Johnson and Ray Edwards): instilling confidence. This list can go on and on. So, having been surrounded with this caliber of (in my opinion) superheroes, I have already developed my own superpower (I think): helping to establish excellent bar crews. I believe I have a knack for getting awesome people together with other awesome people running the show. Part of the crew, part of the ship!
What is the most positive trend in food, beer, wine or cocktails that you’ve noticed in St. Louis over the past year?
Unequivocally, the low ABV cocktail/ sober trend. Most non-industry people don’t realize what we go through, day in day out, to service their needs. It's why drug and alcohol abuse is a pretty common — sometimes, too common — occurrence in our industry. We have to cope too. But, even though I’m not strictly sober, I’ve been inspired by the likes of Tom Halaska and WellBeing Brewing and a handful of other, sober, St. Louis industry friends to realize that you don’t have to be imbibing or drunk to have a good time or enjoy a good drink.
What is one thing missing or that you’d like to see in the local food and beverage scene?
More prevalent late-night food! I know that there is Atomic Cowboy and Flamingo Bowl until 2 a.m., and Mangia serves until 1:30. I love Uncle Bill’s and Courtesy Diner, but I’d love to see more variety in the neighborhoods that are willing to go late night.
Who is your St. Louis food or drink crush?
Any and every bartender who can serve me either a Boulevardier, a shot of Cynar 70, or an ice-cold Busch and a whiskey.
Who’s the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis food and beverage scene?
Right now there are far too many to mention, but I have been keeping an eye on Naomi Roquet at Reed’s. Natasha Bahrami, Dale Kyd and the crew at Cafe Natasha’s. Harrison Massie and company at Small Change. Denise and Stephen at Oaked. Kira Webster at BAO. Charlie Martin and Morgaine Segura at Olive + Oak. I can’t wait to see what Sean Baltzell and crew do when Takashima Records opens. There’s a lot to be proud of, appreciate and look forward to in St. Louis.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
If it’s dark, I’ll drink it. Color counts, right?
If someone asked you to describe the current state of St. Louis’ food and beverage climate, what would you say?
Ambitious, expanding and growing. There is always something going on. It almost seems like the neighborhoods are starting to grow into each other. I’m constantly recommending bars, restaurants, venues and cocktail joints in the city to out-of-towners that they had no idea existed. Every neighborhood in this city has its vibe. Every bar has its character. Enjoy and experience it!
If you were not tending bar, what would you be doing?
Playing music, looking for a bartending position. Ha!
Name an ingredient never allowed behind your bar.
There are very few, but Jose Cuervo Gold is definitely one of them.
What is your after-work hangout?
It depends on which bar I’m working at, but Flamingo Bowl, Venice Cafe, Whiskey Ring, Crack Fox, Atomic Cowboy or Parlor.
What’s your edible or quaffable guilty pleasure?
An ice-cold can of Busch and a shot of whiskey.
What would be your last meal on earth?
Steak and sauteed veggies from Frazer’s with the added lobster tail (for a nominal fee). Then, a three course for the drinks: Opolo Old Zin, Boulevardier with Rittenhouse Rye, and a Blood & Sand with Carpano Antica and Caol Ila!
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