Gary Regan…Conversations with a contemporary cocktailian


This article appeared in the October issue of Australian Bartender magazine.

Interview by Edward Washington

Gary Regan, international cocktailian and avid liquid literary, is a man who has experienced life behind a bar and now writes about it from the other side.

Getting his first break as a drinks writer in the 90s Regan is firmly established as an authority on all things cocktail related, and for a man who began pulling pints at the age of 14 he’s sure to know a thing or two about the trade.

Regan counts the history of the Negroni as the most interesting story doing the cocktail rounds and for his last drink he’d order a Manhattan from either, Jesus, Mohammed or the Buddha (whoever was available at the time).

How did you first get into the bar business?

“I started out cleaning the beer lines in my parents’ pub in Bolton, Lancashire, England, when I was about 13.  They let me work behind the bar there when I was 14.”

What was the attraction of it?


What was it like being a bartender in New York during the 70s and 80s?

“Exactly like it is being a bartender in New York now.  I was in my 20s so I knew everything about everything.  We partied like crazy, and I think I was lucky to get out of it alive-not all of my friends made it through.

We wore different clothes than they wear today, and although we might not have been as savvy as bartenders today, we were very savvy for that day and age.  Not all that much has changed, though.  Just technology.  Oh, and our drinks were far easier to make!”

What’s your proudest achievement in the bar industry thus far?

“Hopefully I’ve stayed true to my calling.  I might not work behind the stick these days, but first and foremost I think of myself as a bartender.”

How did you get into the drinks writing side of the business?

“1990. Mardee, my wife at the time, got me an interview at a trade magazine.  They commissioned 2 articles from me, one on single malts, one on British pubs in America, and the ball started rolling.”

How do you continually develop your creative writing ideas?

“I get bored easily, so once I’ve done something I have to think of something new to do.  And I’m lucky inasmuch as people who follow my work allow me to get away with murder…”

Which cocktail do you think has the most interesting history, or story?

“That has to be the Negroni. A verifiable story about an Italian Count who rode rodeo in the USA who substituted gin for the soda in an Americano!  What’s better than that?”

Do you have any exciting plans for the future?

“Yes. Watch this space. The best is yet to come.”

What excites you about the international bar scene?

“The camaraderie among brother and sister bartenders all over the world.”

How do Australian bartenders stack up compared to the best of the world?

“To be very honest, they are way, way better than I ever expected.  A few years ago I was told that Oz bartenders didn’t bother to learn the ropes they just went and did whatever they wanted to do.

Fact is, I think, that this attitude helped push the envelope.  Oz bartenders are among the most creative in the world.”

What cocktail trends do you think are popular at the moment?

“The use of very distinctive spirits-smoky Scotches, pungent Piscos, musty Mescals-in very small quantities to add accents to a tapestry of flavours in a drink.”

Are there any local or international bar operators that you admire? Why?

“Salvatore Calabrese.  He’s the real deal.  110% the bartender’s bartender.”

What advice would you give young bartenders who want to open their own bar one day?

“Be very, very sure that that’s what you really want to do.  I was a far better bartender than I was a bar owner.”

Your last cocktail?

“A Manhattan, served by Jesus, Mohammed, or the Buddha (Jesus is the most likely, though) at The Bay Horse, Thornton, Lancashire, England. My parents’ last pub, and my local when I’m in the UK.”

What are your Top 5 tips for an aspiring drinks writer?

  • Get a good editor
  • Write like you’re talking
  • Don’t take anything personally
  • Three is as many as you get!

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