Today we’d like to introduce you to Tony Bennett.
Hi Tony, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
Our dream began as just that…a simple dream on a beach in Puerto Rico. We have all been friends throughout our careers in the Hospitality industry for the better part of a decade, all running various business for other people when one trip to San Juan for Tales on Tour changed our lives forever. Andrew came from running the bar program at the Allegretto Bar Cello, Alexandra was managing the entire hospitality program, and Quin was the director of the Wine program and tasting room. And here, as I prepared my resignation as the Bar Director at 1122 Speakeasy, it began to sink in that we were finally doing it. Something that we owned. Something that could be anything we desired. To think that starting out washing dishes 17 years ago would lead to this moment, I could not have foreseen, but the excitement in the air was electric! The five of us started this journey in December of 2019 when we began taking serious looks at a building in downtown Paso that had been the hub and hangout for an entire generation of winemakers helping to build the Paso Wine Country to what it is today. We had seen it as multiple entities over the course of the last five years, and with the closure of the last restaurant, a decision was made to collectively pursue it ourselves. The adventure led us to partnering with a good friend turned business partner, Norin Grancell, for the endeavor. The next several weeks were exhilarating as we watched this lifelong dream begin to take tangible shape.
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
As we all know, 2020 wasn’t an ideal year for most, but nothing could have prepared us for the challenges it raised attempting to open a new cocktail bar and restaurant. The original projected opening date of April seemed realistic back in January as we took possession of keys to the building, but that all changed on March 16th. Our community like so many others was closed due to the impending Covid-19 spread throughout the world, and we attempted to make the best of the situation by continuing work safely during the closure, which raised its own obstacles. Construction crews were no longer able to visit job sites, single-handedly halting work for months. In order to attempt to keep some sort of a schedule, we did much of the demo and construction on the building ourselves. Late nights turned into early mornings as things took shape. We all did the best we could to keep a positive attitude during it all, but there were definitely more terrifying days than others as we had to choose what to still do V.S. what we should pass or delay on in the hopes of even getting our doors open. But the ideas were never short! Between the 5 of us, there was always some grand vision on the horizon that kept the hope alive. 5 months late, the universe finally allowed us to open our doors and show the community what we had created for them in the first week of September.
We’ve been impressed with The Alchemist’s Garden, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
As a bartender, I have been fortunate to find myself part of a greater community while furthering my education and skills in a multitude of establishments. From time in Seattle during the college days to back in my hometown, the overwhelmingly friendly atmospheres and a willingness from those more adept to share and help the growth of younger bartenders like myself shined a light that eventually I realized I would never want to escape from. The years of cutting my teeth as a barback and bouncer were fun and short-lived as I grew in a direction that focused on the detail-oriented aspects of balance, palate, and nuance. Opportunities came and went over the years, with my love of this staying true to that look on a guest’s face the first time they try a cocktail that was created based upon their palate preference, not even necessarily from the menu.
This conversion of information to art and culinary delight was the most addictive presence in my life in the beginning. The cocktail books flooded from everywhere in my house, but there could be no mistaking the value of traveling and seeing what other bars were doing. The friendships and bonds made helped to shape who I was to become within my own community, the importance of which was completely unbeknown to myself. This was the beauty I found in hospitality that I am still in love with today. We don’t have to do anything, we want to. Over the years, it became very clear this is what I was meant for, and some of the best friends I made are the same partners we collectively own The Alchemist’s Garden with. The feeling of transitioning from running bars to owning bars with this family was incredibly humbling. The approach and thought process with a group of this size was much different than on a solo journey and helped to build the foundation upon which our new dream would stand. A dream we are so very proud of and cannot wait to share with you!
Where do you see things going in the next 5-10 years?
Our industry has taken a hit in a way that nobody could have predicted in their wildest dreams. In these trying times, we have seen our community come together to support our local small businesses in a way that makes us love the people we co-exist with everyday so much more. It is undoubtedly going to be different moving forward. Opening our doors everyday is no longer just a part of the day to day activities; it is now a privilege that we have, knowing that some others are no longer able to. The ones that still remain have a responsibility to the rest to keep the smiles coming. Help people remember that a cocktail bar is a transport away from reality and a short escape from the stresses of our lives. Each of our communities has a place that people come together to laugh, to cry, unwind and relax. The spots that survive this will only do so because they offer this much-needed reprieve, and we all need our friends and patrons as much as you need us. This harmony in the relationship of what we do gives me faith that it will endure but will take time to come back as fierce as it was at the end of 2019. Until then, my friends, stay thirsty!
- Nicolas Flamel $13
- Toasted Typhon $14
- The Apothecary $13
- Luna Cresiente $12
- Belladonna $18
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: https://www.alchemistsgarden.com/
- Instagram: Alchemistsgardenca
Photographer: Sarah Kathleen