When you spend time as a bartender, you meet people with all kinds of lifestyles. If you are lucky, you will derive inspiration from these people. Josh Davis spent a few years tending bar before attending Camp Runamok which fostered his desire do more with his career. This is also where he and I met and instantly hit it off (Camp Runamok is super inspirational and you should probably go, you will make friends). Josh is now the mastermind behind Brown and Balanced, a cocktail cookout executed by people of colour. Josh took some time to answer some questions for us about his inspiration and what he hopes to achieve with Brown and Balanced.
Bartender Atlas: When did you start bartending and what style of bartending were you doing at the time?
Josh Davis: I started bartending 13 years ago. It was something that I always had interest in. I was a nightclub bartender for the first 5/6 years in the industry. Then I got exposed to the whole “mixology boom” and I fell in love with creating with fresh ingredients and different spirits, and that has been the name of the game for me since. I’ll always remember as a child sitting with my grandmother at the time, and Thursday nights, we watched The Cosby show, then A Different World, and finally Cheers (before I had to go to bed lol) and I thought Sam Malone was the absolute coolest dude in the world… So once I got in the industry I wanted to moniker myself as “The Black Sam Malone”
BA: Have you always worked in and around Chicago?
JD: I have always worked in Chicago. Nightclubs, after hours bars, hotel bars, a coupe brand gigs and now I run the BEST kept secret in the South Loop of Chicago. A neighborhood bar, with a cocktail bar vibe… The Bureau Bar.
BA: You are a parent too, right?
JD: Yes I am a father to three beautiful, smart, funny, crazy kids! Josiah 15 (16 in a couple months), Ka’Moira 9, and Je’Qwuan 8.
BA: When did you decide that making drinks and managing bar programs wasn’t enough? What made you decide to expand beyond having your job be solely “your job”?
JD: Here in Chicago, unfortunately this city is the most segregated city in the world. So as I was growing in the industry, I found myself wanting more knowledge, but having to trek to sides of the city completely out of my neighborhood to get it. But those same opportunities weren’t available on the South and West sides. So I took it upon myself to take everything I would learn, and talk to bartenders on my side of town (I’m a PROUD SOUTH SIDER) and implement it at my bars and watch my peers do the same things at their bars. Due to the media, my side of town has a bit of a stigma attached to it and I’m sure that scared some people and brands from spending a lot of time there, but because of people like myself and a few others, I’m starting to see the change and more attention being paid to those of us who don’t work in the “cool” bars. I’m a big advocate that when EVERYONE is involved in pushing the culture forward, then the entire industry as a whole gets stronger!
BA: You want to talk about DrinxXx on Me and also your relationship with Lush Life Productions?
JD: DrinkxXx On Me was my baby. It is a mobile bartending service. We have serviced every type of event you could imagine from backyard parties, to baby showers, to corporate events. It was my way of taking my knowledge from the bar, and bringing it into people’s home. I always wanted my clients to be a guest at their own party. It was created in 2008 and is still servicing events all over the city. But with all things there is a natural progression and growth, and I am PROUD to be a part of the Lush Life Team. As I am typing this I am coming up on my 1 year anniversary with the team. My official job title is “Lush Life Muscle” so basically it started off as me keeping everyone on their toes and representing the team on the road, teaching at Bar Institute, being the team “Bouncer” lol, but I wanted to do more. Which is where the Brown and Balanced event was created.
BA: Tell us about Brown and Balanced? When did you get the idea, how long has it taken to put it all together?
JD: Here is my Mission statement of what Brown And Balanced is: Brown And Balanced endeavors to highlight the achievements and impact that black bartenders have in our industry while also raising money for charity and offering a great time to our guests. Brown and Balanced will offer drinks made by black bartenders paired with food made by female chefs and chefs of color. Guests will be invited in to taste incredible food and drink in a relaxed cookout setting.
So how it all got started was two years ago during Bar Institute NYC, the wonder Lindsey Johnson and our friends at Maison-Ferrand gave me the opportunity to host the “Black Bartender Dinner” in NYC. The first of its kind. It was maybe 20-25 bartenders of color that we all had a chance to sit down, break bread and trade ideas back and forth. From that, I became part of the LL team and wanted to continue that dinner (which we have and it has grown) but also get a chance to DO MORE. While on the Econo tour last year, one night late in some city, I came up with the idea to do pop-up bar events with ONLY black Bartenders, just taking over bars and showing our talents. The first city we did it in was Dallas, during Bar Institute and the response and support was amazing. So we had to keep pushing forward. Dallas, Portland, and then NYC (which is the one I’m most proud of) were all our stops last year.
BA: What sort of programming can people expect from the Brown and Balanced events?
JD: At Brown And Balanced you can expect three things….
1. SUPREMELY talented Bartenders of Color giving you cocktails and smiles and conversation and truly enjoying themselves serving the masses.
2. VIBES. And what I mean by vibes is people from all walks of life coming together and enjoying the hospitality that we are giving. Which is the name of the game right???
3. An ABSOLUTE FIRE Playlist. We tailor the playlist to what city we are in. For example, when was the last time you heard 3 hours of 90s NYC hip hop at Holiday Cocktail lounge?? Well it definitely happened during B&B NYC!!
BA: How did you pick the cities to host the Brown and Balanced events?
JD: For this years Brown and Balanced events we looked at the cities that we felt this event could really showcase some dope bartenders. We are going to continue growing and adding more cities to the mix, but here is our list for the upcoming events …
and a special event in October that I’m not going to let the cat out of the bag about yet, but just know, you’ll want to be in attendance…
BA: Even though it is a brand new venture, how would you like to see Brown and Balanced expand from here?
JD: I am working hard to see Brown And Balanced continue to partner with my Lush Life team, but also live on it’s own one day. I want to make B&B just as much of a culture as Camp Runamok, Cane Camp, PDXCW, Bar Institute and all the other amazing things the team has created. All those events have changed the game. They have become must haves to encourage growth and education in our industry, and my goal is for B&B to be looked at the same way. Since I’ve been in this industry all I have wanted, fought for, stood on, was for fair and equal representation for Brown people… and when I say brown people, yes I mean African American bartenders, but also Spanish, Asian, Indian, etc.. and all bartenders of Color… I will never be pigeonholed and I will fight for all my brothers and sisters to never be relegated to only certain opportunities.. I’ll leave you with my favorite hashtag: #WhatCanBrownDoForYou
Thank you Josh for taking the time to talk with us!