Creating your own culture with Erick Castro and Bartender at Large

Let’s be honest, big cities get all the love. The cities that have decades or more than a century long tradition of making quality libations are the ones that get column inches. New York, London, Paris, San Francisco, Havana, Barcelona etc… We love those cities, everyone does, that’s why so much is written about them.

A few years ago, Erick Castro moved from San Francisco to his current hometown of San Diego and noticed that despite having a great community of bars and bartenders, the city didn’t get much love from the media. He decided to change that by reporting on it, and other smaller cities himself. Over the next few years he put together a film and subsequent series of web videos called Bartender At Large. We had a quick talk with him about Bartender At Large, skateboarding and what he’s up to next.

Erick Castro | Bartender Atlas

Photo: Gabe Fonseca


Bartender Atlas: In what year did you start bartending?
Erick Castro: Maybe 2003?

BA: What style of bartending were you doing at the time?
EC: I used to work at a chain restaurant that was kind of a brewery. So I would just pour beers and make Cosmos all day.

BA: You are still heavily involved in running Polite Provisions in San Diego?
EC: Oh yeah. I just came out of all our Polite meetings. I’m pissed off because I’m not getting any shifts right now, man. I travel for a little bit and come back and everyone has gotten comfortable in my spot.

BA: Do you find that splitting time between polite Provisions and Bartender At Large and everything else you have going on is a struggle?
EC: Nah, not really.

BA: How long had you been behind the wood before deciding to go out and do something related, but different and what was the first project?
EC: I don’t know man, uh, I used to wait tables and I loved that, does that count? Hahaha. Even with all the other stuff I do right now, consulting or whatever, it’s all the same mission statement, know what I mean? Even though, like, I’m making movies or documentaries or consulting for a chain restaurant or whatever, to me is just the same thing. It’s helping America drink better. So yeah it’s all the same mission statement, it’s just a different aspect.

BA: Where did the idea for Bartender At Large come from?
EC: It’s something I was trying to make happen for maybe since 2010 and I had a hard time getting it off the ground. What really, finally made it happen was having bartended in San Francisco and then moving to San Diego I realized how much more difficult it is to get anybody to hear your story. Getting press in San Diego was so much more difficult. Even though the program I did at Polite Provisions was light-years beyond what I did at Rickhouse in San Francisco, at the time, it got a fraction of the coverage. That was when I realized “Hey, wait, no one buys newspapers anymore, no one buys magazines.” The era of press being extravagantly funded…those days are gone. So if there’s a story out there that needs to be told, I gotta do it myself. Create it myself.

BA: Creating your own culture, right? I wanted to touch on the nods that you have made to punk rock and skateboarding in some of your projects. The “Bartending is Not A Crime” shirt is the most obvious one.
EC: Yeah man, I was never any good at it, but I loved it. Yeah and those shirts actually came from the idea…well, when I was arrested in San Francisco. (ed note: it had to do with a law concerning infusing liquor). I didn’t have the means to make the shirts when I was up in San Francisco, it was just kind of a catch phrase that we would say. Now, I don’t know if I should talk about this, but when we were getting hassled down here in San Diego I thought, “Well, fuck it, I’m an owner now, we’re putting this on a  t-shirt.”

I love it because when you are walking through the airport or  just down the street, people kinda chuckle.

BA: For Bartender At Large, why did you decide on videos of interviews instead of podcasts or blog posts?
EC: Well, I was heavy into photography and at the time I was naive enough to think that I knew what I was doing making a movie. Now, knowing what I know, I don’t think it would have gone that way. Had I known how much work it was going to be I never would have made it. But now that I’ve made it, we’re definitely going to do it again.

BA: So Bartender At Large is ongoing?
EC: Oh yeah. The podcast online is good and it’s low maintenance but the film itself was like, a solid year of straight work. Post-production was like, 9 months or something, and then getting it in front of people was another 9 months. Even then, it’s been so rewarding that we are definitely going to do it again.

Bartender At Large | Bartender Atlas

BA: Have you ever had an interview go horribly, like so bad you had to scrap it?
EC: No, nothing ever too bad. Most of the time I think because we are dealing with bartenders and bartenders are a gregarious bunch, you know, really jovial. It’s easy to get along with most bartenders.

I have had a scenario or two where people afterwards are like “Oh my God! I realize what I said is really bad, can you remove that?” but that’s only happened once or twice.

BA: What else have you got up your sleeve?
EC: Right now I have the consulting company that I launched with Chris Patino called Simple Serve. We’re staying pretty busy with that. That’s been fun. We hit the ground running a lot faster than I had expected but in a good way.

BA: With Simple Serve, because it is your name on it and you are selling it, instead of people approaching you personally, does that change the way you approach consulting jobs?
EC: It’s kind of nice because we have had a steady stream of clients coming to us. Luckily, they come to us when they want what we have to offer. If we try to do what other consultants are doing, we’re going to get destroyed because we can’t compete with them on price and on the level that they can. But if we can come in with some perspective of what we’re doing, which is a little more niche, a little more small scale, a little more personal all around more human, we’re gonna kill it. We’ve been staying really busy, so I don’t think we’re gonna change that strategy.

BA: Are you guys staying to southern California with that?
EC: No, we’re national. Actually, we don’t have any clients in San Diego. I didn’t realize that until you just asked.

BA: Usually I would finish this with asking when your last full shift behind a bar was, but if you’re trying to pick up shifts at Polite Provisions, I’m guessing it was last week sometime.
EC: Well, I’m always jumping behind the bar trying to help out. I haven’t had many scheduled shifts because I have been travelling around so much lately, but I’m always behind the bar making drinks.

I was actually making cocktails in Calgary last week. It was cool because I got to bartend with Dave Mitton, he’s awesome.
Thanks Erick for taking the time to chat with us.

Josh Lindley
Co-Creator at Bartender Atlas
Josh Lindley has been bartending in Toronto since 2007. Before working for Hendrick's Gin as a Brand Ambassador he was bar manager at Campagnolo and a hired gun at Bar Isabel before working at Chantecler, Le Phenix and Eataly. He has contributed to many magazines, tv shows and newspapers with his recipes and opinions. He recently put his diploma in Radio Broadcasting from Humber College to good use through The Blackbird audio documentary. Currently pouring at Civl Liberties and teaching cocktail classes for Evelyn Chick's Love of Cocktails, he enjoys being an ambassador to Toronto and talking about horror movies, punk rock and basketball.
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