Behind the Stick: The Libertine’s Mate Hartai

by Jason Kosmas

The first time I had a conversation with Mate Hartai was a late night at the Windmill Lounge. Everything we talked about quickly went under a microscope-getting into the finer details of each subject. Music, bartending, food, it quickly occurred to me that Mate was the kind of guy that had to know the science and physics of everything he was passionate about. Some people exude passion in different ways. For him, he was beyond childhood curiosity with every subject he put his mind to and that level of dedication is out of pure appreciation and respect.

Mate has been the driving force behind The Libertine Bar on Greenville for over 3 years now. He was quick to point out that even though he put his full energy behind every aspect of this unassuming neighborhood joint, he is only continuing the work set up by the owners. Mate is great guy to “wax intellectual” with and has that timeless bartender sage persona from his facial hair to the dry wit of his social commentary. 

Mate is an excellent host and the Libertine is a great place to explore beer, spirits and great cocktails. Mate is not only a skilled bartender, but also a level two cicerone. Below is my conversation with Mate over some pints at the Libertine.

Do you feel that we can move away from titles such as mixoligist and just be bartenders?

I am not personally apt to use the term mixoligist, but if the people of Dallas need to use the term to recognize us, then let them have that. We don’t use the word.

I think the way Dallas is broken up into various neighborhoods and its bars, but I don’t think we have just that bar. We have clubs, we have pubs and cantinas and beer bars, but we don’t just have that bar that can do everything.

I would love to be just called a bartender. Then people could say that’s a good bartender and that’s a bad bartender. But I think we are not at that point where we can serve good beer, and fine cocktails. The few places that do have everything are not recognized and never seen in the press. But when this mixology thing is done there may be this backlash and people will just go back to beer. Then we might be called beeroligist.

So at the end of the day would you say what makes a good bar is a good bartender?

Absolutely. It’s like a good soldier; you need to weapon to fight with and the skills. You have to be prepared. You need a bar willing to give you the ingredients you need that’s willing to make the relationships with the breweries and distilleries to give you what you need. Then you need the person that can put it all together and delver.

What is the best weapon a bartender can have other than skills?

You mean other than dimples?

And a fine mustache.

Yes, a fine mustache. I think for the bartender its one who could live anywhere. It’s attitude.  John Lennon said, “I’m an artist, give me a tuba and I will bring you something out of it.”  It’s a mindset behind the bar. If you have that mindset people will be willing to forgive you for a lot. As long as you are working with them, at the end of the day they are there to enjoy themselves.

What would you like to see in Dallas?

I would love to see Dallas grow to be less cliqued.  I like for neighborhoods to have that certain feel but it should not be isolated. Beer bars are in certain neighborhoods. Cocktails bars are in certain neighborhoods. When I walk into bar I walk in ultimately because of the person running it. I would like to see people break those cultural boundaries, but it is going to take a bit more maturity.

Is it more maturity with the bartender or the guests?

It’s both. The consumer will follow us. If we are 100% mature and unified as a community, then they have no choice but to learn. There are a lot of people just trying to make a lot of money and unfortunately those people are called bartenders too.

Do you think the best thing a bartender can arm themselves with is the products they use?

Yes. If you don’t know how to shoot the gun, don’t carry the gun.

Jason Kosmas has been an influential figure in the crafted cocktail movement over the last decade. He is co-founder of Employees Only in New York City which took the highest honor of “Best Cocktail Bar in the World” in 2011 at Tales of the Cocktail and also co-author of Speakeasy a cocktail book on classic and modern trends. Currently, Kosmas resides in the DFW where has launched his latest venture The 86 Co.which develops bartender driven spirits for the democratization of cocktail making. Traveling the Metroplex, he is constantly meeting talented and charismatic bartenders who’s stories have not been told.

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Filed under beer, Behind the Stick, Cocktails, Crave, Dallas, Jason Kosmas

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