On November 15th, 2019, the world lost one of the great bartenders. Gary was a long-distance mentor of mine, and then he became an idol of mine, then a colleague, and finally a friend.
When we lose someone, I think it’s nice to share some fun stories about them. Gary was a true bartender, and I’m a bartender, and so the Gary story I cherish the most is very… bartender-y. It’s not a story about us drinking together, and it’s not a story about us talking about cocktails together. This is a story about two bartenders doing what bartenders do best: making fun of each other.
Here’s to Gary. I hope you enjoy this.
I got into cocktails mainly by reading Paul Harrington’s Alchemist column on the Hotwired website in the late 1990s and early 2000s. His book, Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century was my bible when I started learning about cocktails and moving my way up from dive bars, to better bars, and eventually to cocktail bars. It was the book that taught me everything I knew… until 2003.
When Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology came out, I must have read that thing like five times. It was, and I believe still is, the most comprehensive manual on bartending ever written.
I lived by that book. All the stuff on service. The cocktail family stuff. All of the recipes were even so much better than anyone else’s. Like, when you’re first learning about this stuff and want to know how to make, I don’t know, like a White Lady or something, you look at so many recipes. And time after time, Gary’s recipes were just better; more balanced, and they all kind of made more sense, if that… makes sense.
Inspired by the likes of Harrington and Regan, I started this blog in 2004 in the hope of repaying the world for everything that those two had taught me by contributing to it. Two years later, I had – much to my amazement – caught the attention of Gary Regan and he reached out and asked me to contribute some thoughts for this article, which was the very first piece of national press I’d ever received.
I was beside myself to be mentioned by one of my great bartending heroes, I can’t even tell you what it felt like, but it was awesome. Over the next few years, he and I conversed over email from time to time, chatted over Twitter, and he mentioned me a few more times in various articles for Wine Enthusiast and the SF Examiner.
Now, I know that a bartender meets a ton of people, especially someone of his caliber. So I never took it personally that he almost never recognized me when I’d see him sporadically at events or whatnot. I first introduced myself to him at Tales in maybe… 2008? Whenever it was, I walked up to him and said “Hi Gary, my name is Jeffrey Morgenthaler. I’m a bartender from Eugene, Oregon. We’ve spoken over email a few times and you’ve written about me once or twice.” And then I would go on to give the same spiel to him about once a year, every time I saw him at some industry event.
In 2011, Gary awarded me with a Gazzer, which was this fun little award he was doing in conjunction with Pernod-Ricard. I didn’t know what I’d done to deserve such a treat, but over email he told me it was an Innovation Award for inventing barrel aged cocktails. He sent me my Gary Regan bobblehead and I displayed it in my home office with pride.
Then, in 2013, he emailed me to inform me I was the recipient of another Gazzer award. “What did I do this time?” I asked him. He told me it was an Innovation Award for inventing barrel aged cocktails. I said “It must be a great innovation if I’m getting awarded for it twice!” He told me he’d forgotten that he’d already awarded me for that particular trend and sent me my Gary Regan bobblehead which I displayed in my home office with pride – right next to the first one he’d sent me.
In 2015, Campari Germany and the BCB invited me to Berlin to present on the Negroni with Gary. For the first time I was on a stage with one of my bartending idols, as a peer. I don’t know if I can adequately convey the feeling that a total nerd from the little burg of Eugene, Oregon (now living in Portland) got from that. But you get it.
I mentioned in one of the group emails leading up to the talk that it was going to be great to see Gary again, and sent along a photo of myself as a reminder, while telling everyone on the email chain that Gary never seemed to remember who I was. To which he replied with something along the lines of “Maybe I’d remember you if you were a more memorable person, you little fucker.”
When I arrived at my hotel in Berlin, Gary was outside waiting for a taxi. I walked right up to him with an outstretched hand and said “Hi Gary, my name is Jeffrey Morgenthaler. I’m a bartender from Portland, Oregon. I don’t know if you remember me but we’ve spoken over email a few hundred times and you’ve written about me a dozen times. I also have two Gazzers and you and I are presenting tomorrow about the Negroni”
To which he replied with something along the lines of “Maybe I’d remember you if you were a more memorable person, you little fucker.”
So that entire week, every single time I saw him – and we were working really closely together on that talk and on another project – I would walk right up to him and say, “Hi Gary, my name is Jeffrey Morgenthaler. I’m a bartender from Portland, Oregon. I don’t know if you remember me but we’ve spoken over email a few hundred times and you’ve written about me a dozen times. I also have two Gazzers and you and I are presenting tomorrow about the Negroni”
Every. Single. Time. Even if he’d only been gone for five minutes to the bathroom, I would greet him with that spiel. And every time it was greeted with something along the lines of “Maybe I’d remember you if you were a more memorable person, you little fucker.”
As you can probably tell, despite my love of shit-talking, I’m a total fanboy. And when I travel somewhere and I know that the author of one of the many, many books I hold in my collection will be there, I always bring it with me to get them to sign it. I have books signed by all the greats: Degroff, Cecchini, Wondrich, Harrington (that one I bought a signed copy online, I still haven’t met him in person) etc.
At the end of our week together I told Gary about this and produced my tattered, dog-eared copy of The Joy of Mixology for him to sign. I told him, sincerely, how much that book meant to me coming up in the business and how much of an honor it was to be working with him, despite my constant harassment of him that week. He graciously autographed my book and handed it back to me. I didn’t even look at the inscription – I wanted to wait until I got home.
And when I got back to Portland and opened up the book in my home office to display it proudly where it still stands to this day, I finally read what he’d written to me in Berlin:
To Jeffrey –
Whoever the fuck you are.
I love you, man.
I love you too, Gary. Wherever the fuck you are.
42 Replies to “Gary Regan”
JM, saved this to come back and read it later because i couldn’t do it at the time, and just knew you would nail it as always with a personal story (and of course, some classic shit-talking, something in which you’re both so skilled) that would simultaneously fill me with laughter and sadness. Thank you for not disappointing.
Gary’s (Gaz’s) book was the first cocktail book I ever read. I was living in Atlanta at the time. The cocktail scene was just starting to blossom there. There were talented guys like Greg Best (Holeman and Finch at the time), Miles Macquarrie (Leon’s Full Service at the time), and my cousin Jeff (good name, ran the bar at a place called Rosebud).
I told Jeff I was interested in mixing, and he gave me his copy of The Joy of Mixology to read. (I still have that copy to this day. Sorry, cuz.)
I was immediately captivated by the stories from the early days of bartending, how Gary classified drinks, and his reasons for making certain drinks in certain ways. Using Jeff’s home bar of free liquor from reps, I tried more than a few of Gary’s recipes… and I got Jeff and myself drunk more than a few times in the process. It was my first experience understanding how ingredients played together.
I’ll always look back on that time—and Gary’s book—with fondness. I only wish I’d gotten a chance to meet him. Nevertheless, his personality and passion will live forever through his written words.
In any case, this was a great post, man. Cheers to Gary Regan… and to you. You’ve influenced more than a few bar people yourself, you know. Just sayin’.
All the best,
P.S. Random fun fact: Before he left the bar world, my cousin got to spend some time with a few people from that early mixing crowd Regan was a part of. Not the least of these was David Wondrich. Jeff had dinner and drinks with Wondrich in New Orleans. At the time, Jeff was a seasoned drinker and thought he could hold his own. Wondrich easily left him under the table—while staying perfectly coherent and waxing eloquent on cocktail history, haha.
Great stories, Michael. Thank you for sharing.
That is classic! Made my eyes water…
Great story Jeffrey. Thank you for sharing and making us All smile!
What a great story to remember Gaz by. Thank you, Jeff.
Great story. Emotional. I learned of Gary’s passing while looking at the Imbibe website to share a recipe while sitting at the bar at Comstock Saloon in San Francisco. At least I was well positioned to mourn appropriately.
I contacted him a dozen times by email, he always responded politely and wisely.
His books helped me a lot and several times.
He even wrote to me without knowing me in person a letter of recommendation when I applied for a visa to visit TOTC a while ago.
I saw it in Berlin, but I did not encourage myself to introduce myself.
MY shakespeare language management is very basic, I was afraid of being like a fool.
Thanks for sharing this friend.
You leave my heart happy, we are all going to miss Gary, I hope we all remember him as he was, the grandfather of all the bartenders. And the spiritual guide of all of us.
Best regards from the far far south
When so many of today’s books are about the science of cocktails or a famous bar his was about the people and how to take care of them. I think there is a place for all of it but we need more of what he taught us.
Thanks for making me cry in public.
Gaz was quite the rascal, but I am surprised at how sad I feel at his passing. I’ve known a lot of bartenders, but gaz is probably the one I felt closest to. I suspect that’s how he made most people feel: he was simply authentic.
This is going to be a hard week or two.
Good story. Iconic, really. Thanks, Jeffrey.
I didnt get into cocktails until 2009, but I have probably told you before that it was through your blog. You paid it forward. That’s fucking awesome. And I can’t wait to write something poignant about you when you die!
That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to… anyone.
This is beautiful. Oddly enough I had both of your books in Sea Island and never worked up the courage to ask you to sign them because I was too embarrassed of being a fanboy.
Maybe now you see how silly that is. 🙂
This is great Jeff
Thanks for this.
I’m sorry. Who wrote this? Too bad…if only he were a more memorable little fuck!
Thanks for sharing Jeffrey.
Missing my brother Gary, and sending you big love.
As an addendum to the article, the other project I mentioned in the article that Gary and I were working on also included Leo Robitschek and Jürgen Deibel. It was a project sponsored by Campari that was inspired by the Barrel-Aged Negroni and would eventually become the Cask Tales project. Very fun to work with such amazing talent.
Gary was approached by a new distillery for a gin project and asked who he would like to work with; he recommended me and Leo again, and that project is now the Tod and Vixen gin by the Vale Fox Distillery. If you get a chance to taste our work I think you’ll really enjoy it. It was an honor to get to work with Gary on these projects and I hope they live on for a long, long time. JM
Very funny and good story man. I was actually spectator at that negroni gig @ BCB Berlin with a good friend and colleague of mine. We could’nt hear a word you guys were saying, because of the poor sound system and many, many people in the small room. The 2 of you dealt with the situation like true bartenders! Joking amongst each other and creating a bar atmosphere right away. It was pure class! Actually one of the best seminars we’ve seen while only catching 20% of the actual content 🙂
I found that talk on YouTube! It’s here if you want to watch it (the link skips ahead to the best part, you’re right – the audio is mostly unintelligible). Thanks for the kind words, I had a lot of fun that day.
That’s a great story–totally made me laugh (the recurring exchange between you two) but was also touching.
He was and is the best of us all. A true inspiration in the art of banter and brilliance. Thanks for the memories man.
Ahh man. You brought the tears out buddy. Thank you. He was and always will be my idol in this biz. You painted a brilliant picture of him.
Thank you, Jonny. You are also an idol to many, myself included. Lotsa love from up north.
Reading through this incredible memory of yours marks a great reminder to not take ourselves too seriously. With a heavy heart, cheers to Gaz! Thank you for sharing this, fanboy. Major hugs and love- a big time fan girl.
this is the best thing i’ve read all year.
a total fangirl from the mxmo days
Thank you for sharing this story my friend. A legendary tribute to an absolute legend. Raising my Negroni to all of us who hope to inspire; and to be memorable, for our guests, and most importantly for each other.
Thank you, Jeff. Crying. This is a beautiful story – thanks for sharing.
Nice one Jeffrey. Both you and Gary have inspired thw whole planet. We will miss him. Keep on.
Greatly written duder. Fingered Negronis tonight like it’s the fuckin prom.
PS Someone will write a farewell about you like this. No doubt. I just hope it’s a while before I read it … or that I never will.
My name is Jo-Jo Valenzuela, you won’t remember me even if we’ve met each other a dozen times. I’m your little fucker (pretend I’m Doc Holiday in Tombstone saying those words.)
This is the best, Gaz is my idol!
Ooof!! Thanks Jeff. You’ve captured, perfectly, the sentiment of so many stories I too share with Gaz. I’m so happy that you’re the writer you are. Thanks for getting the words out. Cos I’m struggling….
Thanks, Johnny. The more we can share stories like these, the more alive we can all keep him in our hearts. Here’s to Gaz, and to you, my friend.
Great story Jeffrey. Can’t wait to get back to Portland soon to grab a drink from you at the bar.
This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing. A Negroni (or two) will be raised tonight in his honor.
If anybody could distill the essence of Gaz into a written piece, it’s you. Thanks for making me laugh and for what it’s worth,I remember meeting you…barely.
Hahahaha. Thank you for this. This is the tribute needed. Thanks for making laugh and cry.
This is fantastic, Jeff. You un-noteworthy fucker.
It is is this type of impact I want to leave with this world. Thank you Jeffrey for sharing. That’s an amazing story. Legends create legends.
You know I will. So many frigging emotions today. A toast to one of our Gods!
God damnit, my friend. You have a way with word and emotions. You capture them well. Thank you for sharing this with us.
A total fanboy.
Thank you, man. Be sure to raise a glass to the old man not just this evening – but often. He will always be one of the greats.