It’s all in the shake.
That’s the word from Cesar Vera, a bartender who has kept the spirit in the spirts at the Colonnade Hotel in the Back Bay for the last 30 years, and who was recently named the 2019 Bartender of the Year by the Massachusetts Res-taurant Association (MRA).
In an interview with the Sun, Vera, 55, explained that over the last 34 years at various Colonnade bars – including Brasserie JO and Café Promenade – he has learned more than a few tricks of the trade.
He said the Boston bar crowd, as well as those visiting the city, like traditional drinks for the most part – and martinis are at the top of the list in the Colonnade.
“A good martini is defined by the way you shake it,” he said. “To be honest, people like martinis and they try to make them at home and say it never works out like it does here. It’s not a secret, but it’s hard to say. It’s like my wife. She cooks very well, but doesn’t enjoy her food. She goes to someone else’s house and she loves the food. When people go to the bar, everything is better and they enjoy it more. The one thing that makes a difference is the ice and the way you shake it. A good bartender knows how to adjust to the guest and know if it’s the way they like it.”
Though Vera studies new drinks in magazines, reads about the latest trends online and checks out what’s being served at neighboring bars – he said very basic mixed drinks are all the rage now. He said what seems to be popular are light and refreshing drinks.
“There are always new drinks coming out, but people are into the classics,” he said. “Most of the people now are asking for Ketel 1, Club Soda and a splash of cranberry juice. Or, they want Tito’s Vodka, club soda and a splash of some kind of juice. It’s popular now. It’s light and refreshing and not sweet. It’s really a balanced drink and that’s what I see people asking for now.”
And Vera has seen trends come and go over his 34 years there.
He said he came from Colombia 34 years ago, and the first permanent job he landed was at the Colonnade.
“My first job in Boston was at the Colonnade,” he said with a smile. “It was five months after I came here [speaking] no English at all. I started in housekeeping and worked there for five years and then moved over to food and beverage.”
But being a top-notch bartender requires more than just knowing how to make exotic drinks. Vera said he loved working as a bartender from the start because it was most about a relationship with the customer or the guest.
“You want to be friendly, but not too friendly,” he said. “Be honest and don’t pretend to be the greatest guy in the world. People get tired of that…They say bartenders know everybody’s secrets. It could be true, but you have to be private with the person and respect the confidence. I never gossip. For me, whatever happens in the bar, stays in the bar and that’s it.”
For Vera, who lives in Revere and runs a soccer academy in East Boston, this was his second nomination for Bartender of the Year. However, it was the first time that he won. While he works with functions and banquets at the moment, he said he felt the award was for the sum total of his career at all of the classic establishments that have been in the Colonnade – which he describes as his “home away from home.”
“When they called my name, it was great,” he said. “It’s nice to know that people appreciate the expertise you have and the time you put into it. It was a wonderful experience.”
And asked if he has ever been caught off guard with an obscure drink request, he simply smiled coyly.
“Google has an answer for everything,” he laughed.
It’s all in the shake.