mandi kowalski photo by carmen troesser

Ones to Watch 2014: Mandi Kowalski

Mandi Kowalski

Why Watch Her: Bartending is her academic pursuit.

Age: 24

Mandi Kowalski began bartending while studying abroad in London. Her resume includes Petra Cafe, Livery Company, The Block, Pi, Tree House and Sanctuaria. Currently, she works at this city’s newest cocktail lounge Planter’s House. In 2013, Kowalski jumped into the bartending competition ring. An active member of the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild - St. Louis chapter, she appears to have the drive to remain at the forefront of contemporary bartending. Kowalski recently earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology, which seems to have shaped her perception of the industry. This study seeks to ascertain whether Kowalski is a bartender with promise.

• One-on-one interview with subject
• Interviews with subject’s supervisors and industry peers
• Observations of subject in her work environment

Demonstration of mixology proficiency:
• BarSmarts certified
• Survived Sanctuaria. “It was a lot of studying because the lists are so overwhelming,” Kowalski said. “I’m really glad I got thrown into working at Sanctuaria because not only is it a cocktail bar, it’s a high-volume bar.”
• Helped create the debut cocktail menu for vegetarian restaurant Tree House in 2013. “It allowed me to experiment with a lot of ingredients that I hadn’t done [much] with [before], like kombucha.”
• Fan favorite winner in two cocktail competitions in 2013: The Big O Classic Couples Cocktail Competition for cocktail Gatsby and Daisy, and the regional Paris of the Plains Bartending Competition for cocktail Her Majesty’s Pleasure.

Self-motivated learner:
• Kowalski is bookish. “I read a lot. I’m very studious. That plays into everything I do.”
• Subject’s two-week vacation to Europe in 2013 included industry-minded visits to: Plymouth Gin distillery (“I got to make my own gin when I was there.”); London cocktail bars, including culinary-inspired speakeasy The Nightjar (“I wouldn’t be surprised if it wins best new cocktail bar or best cocktail menu.”); Scotland (“I tasted a lot of scotch. I tried to stick to things not available in the U.S.); France (“The cocktail scene is not phenomenal.”); and Poland (“I fell in love with mulled beer. Why are we not mulling beer in the States?”).

On-the-fly creativity:
• “Her creative abilities are spot-on. She can make you anything you want. She’s good at drawing out information from people to make them a drink right there and then,” remarked Matt Seiter, former bar manager at Sanctuaria.
• “Throw weird ingredients at me. I like to play with it until I find something that is amazing,” Kowalski said. Subject underwent a theoretical, make-me-a-drink test. Parameters: frothy, lovely, gin, lavender, dessert. Result: “Something slightly warm. Vanilla and lavender. Some spice. Maybe cream, an egg. I’m a big fan of pairing gins with mezcal. So I’d probably sneak some mezcal, hoping you weren’t too afraid of smoke.”
• Subject withstood disaster at the Bombay Sapphire Gin competition despite missing bar tools: “The promotional girls working the event took my Hawthorne strainers. I was in the middle of making my drinks. My strainers weren’t there. That was a good lesson learned.”

Unafraid to go against the grain:
• “I call myself a ‘bartendress.’ I’m usually the lone female.”
• “I’m definitely a gin palate. I’m working with guys [at Planter’s House] who’ve been whiskey-lovers for far longer than I’ve been able to drink.”

Industry viewpoint:
• “Bartending is not the service industry, the food industry, the restaurant industry. It’s the hospitality industry.”
• “Bartending is part sociology – learning about the person you are making the drink for.”
• Subject is in the conceptual phase for Libation Laboratory, a nonprofit social service organization whose mission is to build a community for the beverage industry – tea, coffee, wine, cocktails, etc. – with a particular focus on working with recovering alcoholics to “take care of our own … shed light on [alcoholism]. We’ve all lost friends to it, sadly. We don’t want to see that anymore.”

Finalist, Ones to Watch Class of 2014

Tags : People