Mr. Show, Chalkboard Paint, and the Perils of Owning a Bar with Crudo's Micah Olson
Last time we talked with Micah Olson, he was mixing drinks and running the wine program at Jade Bar, Sanctuary on Camelback's acclaimed cocktail lounge. He's now part-owner of the new Italian eatery Crudo.
What's different about this place?
Well, I'm the owner, so there's that. Compared to Sanctuary and Merc Bar, this place is a little calmer and definitely more of a focus on the cocktails compared to everything else. Like at Merc Bar, it's kind of like a club/lounge, and a lot of people still drink vodka Red Bulls -- you get the people who want to hang out at a cool cocktail lounge as well as the people who just say, "I want to get drunk." Jade Bar had a focus on driving numbers -- it was very corporate for not being a corporate hotel. They're not as worried about putting out a good cocktail as they are about meeting numbers. I look at the bottom line as well, but as long as there's enough money to pay the bills and I'm putting out great cocktails, I'm happy.
Is this a better environment for you?
I really enjoy it. This is week three now, and I still haven't made a Lemon Drop or a Cosmo yet.
Does someone who focuses on craft cocktails, as you do, die a little bit inside when someone orders one of those or a vodka Red Bull?
You do a little, but at the same time, those are the easiest drinks to make. There are some nights when you'd love to be able to get a quick break, and when someone orders one of those, you just go, "Thanks."
What's it like being an owner?
It's a lot more stressful than you'd think. It may seem like everything is fine and dandy, but it's a lot of work. I basically do everything for this bar: receiving, ordering, keeping up on all the inventory, making the drinks. You don't really get a break -- even on my days off I end up doing a few hours of work. I think in a year or so, when things slow down and we're able to bring in somebody else, I'll be able to relax. It's exciting and new to be able to be doing this, and it's enjoyable in regard to the sense of accomplishment of life. But as far as enjoyment of life, I haven't reached that part yet.
What are you trying to accomplish with the bar?
Basically, I want to be a neighborhood bar for handcrafted cocktails. I'm trying to keep the prices lower than other places I've worked at -- I'm trying to stay under $10 for all my feature martinis, whereas Jade Bar was $14 and Merc Bar was $12. I tried to go a little bit out of the ordinary with the bottles. Any cocktail you'd ever want, I can basically get you close to it. But I like to introduce people to new liquors or drinks they're not used to, to get people out of their normal environment. Garden-to-glass, local, seasonal. The menu will change with the seasons and will probably change every two months. We have the big chalkboard wall over there, and once that gets finished we'll probably draw up some weekly specials, then erase and write a new one up.
I tried to do chalkboard paint on a wall of the last place I lived, and it didn't work out too well. Was it as frustrating for you as it was for me?
It's a big pain in the ass. You have to do so many coats and there's so much texture on certain parts of the wall, I'd basically have to re-plaster parts of the wall then sand it down to get it all smooth. I did a bunch of research on it before I started, but it didn't prepare me for how much I had to do. It'll look good when it's finished, though.
Food critic Laura Hahnefeld was really excited to see a Mr. Show reference on your menu in the form of the Wyckyd Sceptre. Tell me about the drink.
Everyone who gets the reference is usually older than me -- you wouldn't get that kind of humor at an early age. Mr. Show is a comedy show that was on HBO in the '90s. "Wyckyd Sceptre" is probably their best skit. It's basically about this rock band that's kind of like Spinal Tap, and they made this video that went viral, kids are just downloading it left and right. The band's manager finds out that the party video they made is all over the Internet, so he brings the whole band in to talk to them. He say, "You guys made this party video, it went viral, all these college kids worldwide are downloading it," and the guys in the band are like, "Yeah! All right!" So they turn on the video to watch it, and the video shows the band partying and having fun, but then they cut away to the main band member, David Cross, and they pan down and he's just banging this other dude from the band. So they made a gay party video, but the members of the band don't think they're gay. It's just ridiculously funny and outlandish.
My two best friends, whenever we get together, we have to watch that video. When I was talking about what I wanted to do at the bar, they were like, "You gotta do a drink and call it the Wyckyd Sceptre." I already had a recipe that had 110-proof Chartreuse and Fernet Branca in it -- that would sound wicked to anybody. So it became Wyckyd Sceptre.
Naming drinks is my least-favorite thing, though. Every once in a while you come up with a cool name, and you're like, heck yeah, because you can create a drink to fit that name. Other times you come up with the recipe first, and thinking a name to fit the cocktails is hard. You give me a name, I'll come up with a cocktail for it.
Keep reading for the Wyckyd Sceptre recipe.