When restaurants and bars were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, making and pouring drinks also ended for many bartenders, including Brian Fitzgerald.
But the retired Springfield firefighter turned bartender couldn’t stay away for long, turning first to friends then to social media.
“I think every day for people is so routine and boring right now. They’re not getting a chance to get out, socialize and see their friends,” Fitzgerald said.
He started the Facebook group, “Brian the Bartender” to offer people recipe ideas and gather a community during the pandemic.
But what he thought would be a couple of friends, turned into a much bigger community.
“I didn’t think anything other than, it might just be one or two friends,” he said. “And by the end of that night, there was probably close to 100 people on the page.”
Now it’s grown to more than 1,200 people.
He posts at least one new cocktail recipe a day, calling it the “It’s five o’clock somewhere daily cocktail.” This week’s cocktails have centered around Memorial Day Weekend, with a red, white and blue theme.
He also tries to include funny memes or other things he thinks will make people’s day a little better.
“I’m just trying to keep it light, positive, non-political,” Fitzgerald said. “Just give people a sense space to enjoy learning something new about cocktails, if they have questions and just give them something interesting to do at home.”
He said he’s learned a lot from the group too.
“Everybody, I think, is a closet bartender\u201a” he said. “I’ll put a cocktail out there and next thing you know, two or three people will say you know, ‘Hey, I tried it with this. I tried it with that.’"
But that’s not a bad thing.
“They’re really good recommendations and it helps people out,” he said. “And I learn something new all the time from other people."
He said it also challenges him to up his game. He’s even learning how to take better photos of his drinks, taking pointers from his sister who is an interior designer.
And those in the group are showing their appreciation through an optional virtual tip jar.
But it’s not about the money, he said. It’s about the love of the craft.
While he tries to keep the drinks pretty simple for people at home, making sure it’s not a requirement to go out and buy a lot of new alcohol, he has started improving his own liquor cabinet.
He estimates having about 20 bottles of alcohol before this project. Now, he said, he has 63 bottles of spirits and about eight bottles of different bitters.
He’s even ordered a special cedar plank to help him make a smoky old fashioned.
The retired firefighter then plans on bringing it out to his backyard and safely setting it on fire -- all of which he’s explain in a video for the Facebook group.
“When I was doing it at the bar, it becomes like dinner theater,” he said.
But no matter what you’re drinking, Fitzgerald said his biggest piece of advice is to include fresh ingredients.
“Don’t buy the premix lemon lime juice,” he said. “Do everything fresh and it makes a huge difference when it comes to the actual final product.”
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