Continued from Resetting the Table Series:
Ask a tippler from Charlotte who his or her favorite bartenders are, and odds are that Bob Peters will be in the short list. The Queen City native has worked in several of the region’s top bars, and was named 2015 Global Bartender of the Year for The Ritz-Carlton Corporation for his work at the Punch Room in downtown Charlotte. His latest gig is at the newly-opened Grinning Mule in Charlotte’s artsy Plaza Midwood Neighborhood. And by latest we mean almost at the last possible minute. Peters recalls, “Grinning Mule was supposed to open on March 17, but March 16 was the president’s press conference that basically shut down the whole country. It was terribly unfortunate.”
But mopey mixologists are generally not successful bartenders, so you would expect no less than geniality from someone as acclaimed as Peters. He never disappoints, sharing, “All things considered, I’m not complaining. My family is happy and healthy!” Even as Grinning Mule has finally opened after a 2+ month wait, Peters is taking everything in stride: “North Carolina is in Phase 2 of reopening, but things can change so quickly. One day you hear that the governor is going to let the cat completely out of the bag, and the next day you hear we’re going to remain in Phase 2 for a long time. We had a solid first week after we opened, but you can tell a lot of people are noticeably absent. Fortunately we have a large outdoor seating space that makes it easier for folks to linger over their meal thanks to nature’s ventilation.”
The road to finally opening was neither straight nor short. Shut down just before opening night, Peters and Chef Scott Walker had to make quick decisions about if and how to begin operations. Peters remembers, “We were afraid to open up just offering carryout. We hadn’t established an identity or relationship with customers yet. Our philosophy was to open quietly and slowly and get some solid momentum. After a week, it was apparent that this delay wouldn’t just be a week or two like we had thought. At first I started working on all my home projects, and then I realized that I had to generate some income without leaving home.”
In addition to his successful career as a mixologist and bar manager, Peters also had experience working with restaurant, bars and spirits brands as a consultant. Peters discovered, “Nobody was spending money on consultants at that time. I hosted a few online classes with a local online food magazine that paid me a portion of the class fees and offered an online virtual tip jar, but I realized that I had to do more than that. My good friend Brian Pratt installs tap systems for bars, so I asked him to help build a small bar in my garage. It has a tap system for beer or cocktails, a glass rinser and a glass chiller. It’s amazing how professionally this home bar runs!”
Peters reached out to another friend for ideas about DIY studio lighting for his makeshift home video recording studio. Peters describes his setup as “I’ve got a tripod and an iPhone, and I’ve made a studio bar in my garage. Of course, I can’t pull a car in here right now. But companies were looking for content based around at-home recipes; that was the rage for a while. I started making a few videos and then the word spread quickly.”
Peters officially named his garage bar, well, “The Garage Bar,” and his 10 year old helped design the logo. He picked up gigs filming entertaining instructional segments for brands such as Whistle Pig Rye Whiskey and Mount Gay Rum, as well as private Zoom classes like the surprise 40th birthday party he put on for a client whose wife sent liquor, shakers and bar strainers to invited guests in advance of the online event.
When asked about his advice to those of us spending more time rummaging around our home bars, Peters offers this: “Be experimental. Try different things, and allow the process to be fun. Garnish stuff even if it’s just for you. Spoil yourself! When you make drinks at home, you can see the care and love that we put into your drinks as bartenders. If we’re mindful, we can see the silver linings in these things, and hopefully people will better understand what we do behind the bar.” If you’d like to check out some of his content from The Garage Bar, follow Peters’ Instagram account @Bob_Peters or at his new restaurant’s Instagram, @CLTMule.
At Peters’ account, you can also view installments of his entertaining new IGTV show he’s calling “Cocktails with Mom,” co-starring his mother, Martha. He explains, “We moved my mom in with us from her retirement community. As you can imagine she was getting a little antsy, and at 81, she’s still hilarious. She also has a refined palate and knows what she wants, which is generally a gin martini. She’s not very good at holding her tongue!”
His online career has slowed down a bit now that Grinning Mule has officially opened. Peters explains his new setup: “We’re allowed 50% capacity at this time, so we have got our barstools six feet apart.” Actually, Grinning Mule has set them up with three pairs of stools set six feet from each other so that a couple can share the space or a single person will feel welcome to take up both stools. “We try to give anyone sitting at the bar the sort of experience that they deserve. We want to make them feel welcome and at home. We offer the understanding that things are tough, and we have to be even nicer to each other now. We’re going to do whatever it takes to make our customers feel comfortable and want to come into our establishment.”
Just like with the rest of these beverage pros, Bob Peters knows exactly what the definition of proper hospitality is. Cheers to them all!
Resetting the Table: How Beverage Professionals Are Weathering the Storm