Greg Matheson, Master Mixologist | Tails Piano Bar
Greg Matheson, Tails Piano Bar:
“As a mixologist, I like the challenge of constantly creating, so what I do in cocktails is always evolving.“
Mixing It Up, Keeping It Local
What I’m doing at Tails Piano Bar is different from what I do at City Club, but on the same level. At Tails, I’m Master Mixologist, and at City Club, Bar and Restaurant Manager. Cocktail-wise, it’s very much the same at the two. I put my twenty years of experience behind the bar into developing the cocktail concept for Tails. That includes knowing the vendors, all the people you need to contact for licensing, and the equipment people, that all goes into it.
Greg Thomas decided the feel of Tails, and I delivered. I get to expand upon the cocktails that I create, putting my fingerprints on Wilmington’s cocktail scene more. For example, I’ve been using a lot of fresh seasonal vegetables and fruits, trying to expand upon that in my cocktails. Using produce that is regional especially, like local strawberries. Local blueberries.
I’m doing a lot of purees and going from there, playing with sweetness and acid levels. Making drinks that are both pleasing to the palate and pleasing to the eye. For example, you can juice blueberries all day long, but they don’t really look blue. You add things that are purple, and that make it look good.
Mastering the Bar
We have meetings and training seminars when I get to come in and train the bartending staff on the drinks I’ve developed, explaining what to pay attention to, and how to keep drinks pleasing and consistent. That’s the key to running a bar: you want to emphasize consistency. You don’t want one bartender to make a drink differently from the next.
I like running into people on the street and they say they were in here and tried one of my new cocktails. I like getting the feedback.
I didn’t go to bartending school. My freshman year in college, I was working in a bar, and the man I was working under decided to leave suddenly to go to California. He left a note saying “I’m gone, but my protege is willing to take over and I trained him well.” The general manager came to me and asked if I was 21, I said I was 19, and he said, today you’re 21, and you are behind the bar. The rest is history.
I’m from Lenoir, and I went to UNC-Asheville. When I moved to Wilmington right after I graduated in the mid-90s, the historic preservation movement was just starting downtown, and the restaurant scene here was starting to change. Deluxe was just starting, Pilot House was the fine dining restaurant. I’ve watched it really change through the years. I don’t think that the level of trained servers and line cooks hasn’t kept up, so we’ve got challenges, and we have to create a base here.
Saturday nights here are busy already. Every night, we get a bit of an early crowd, and a bit of a late crowd. We’ve filled the void from Costello’s closing. We get the pre- and post-theater crowd here, and we get a nice number of people from Leland. We are branding this as a “grown up bar,” as a counterpoint to the rock & roll and kids that are downtown.