All it takes to know that Shaun Traxler is one of the most creative up-and-coming bartenders in the industry (aside from tasting one of his concoctions), is checking out his Instagram account.
From images of his “Bedrock Breakfast”, the aptly titled alcoholic interpretation of Fruity Pebbles to “Deez Nutters” with butter washed rum, egg, salted peanut and honeycomb syrup, Traxler’s creations are anything but standard happy hour fare.
For those who know Traxler, however, this comes as no surprise, since the man himself is anything but your typical bartender.
In fact, he sees himself as a different breed completely, preferring to refer to himself as a “bar chef” instead of a mixologist.
From his professional beginning as the winner of a statewide mixology contest in Arkansas to his current full-time gig running the bar Sideways on Dickson in the same state, Traxler has still managed to fit in making guest-lecturer appearances at national conferences and keeping up a continuous flow of hard-to-believe new adults-only drink recipes.
And when he finds himself with a rare block of free time in his professional schedule? That’s easy. He fills it, just as he did in late March 2016 when he partnered with Bay City, Michigan’s bean roaster Populace Coffee to host “Coffee and Cocktails”. In an interview with Bay City Times the day before the event, Traxler shared the reason behind his distaste for the title “mixologist”, where he gets the inspiration for his creations and what he sees for the future of his career. Here are 7 takeaways from the Q&A with the self-titled “bar chef”.
Bowling alley beginnings
Traxler credits a bowling alley job at Pinny Lanes in Pinconning, Michigan with giving him his first taste of working behind a bar. While his official job title was mechanic, his love of bowling kept him wandering the lanes to check out games. There, bowlers would catch him and ask that he fetch drinks for them. While the unofficial orders were more often for soft drinks than beer, the experience gave him his first taste of life as a bartender. From there he worked the bar at a Buffalo Wild Wings, and nearly every position thereafter was as a bartender.
Foodie at heart
Traxler’s professional experience has largely been behind the bar, but his personal passion has always been more for food than drink. As a result, he finds inspiration for new cocktails primarily in the dishes he loves the most.
Traxler attributes the complex and unusual flavor profiles typical of his creations to his love for food.
One example? An arugula-pear salad topped with gorgonzola became the inspiration for a drink that married gorgonzola-washed tequila, pear, balsamic shrub and arugula. The verdict? “It tastes really good,” according to Traxler, which we’re sure is an understatement.
‘Bar Chef’ explained
Aside from the fact that his concoctions sound more like they belong on the light fare menu than they do the drink menu, Traxler shies away from the term “mixologist” for another reason as well. “It’s a term that has…become bastardized,” he opines. “…you’ll see people putting gummy worms in a cocktail and calling themselves a mixologist.” Hence, the title of “bar chef”.
A day in the life
When he’s not hosting events like the one with Populace Coffee or indulging in recipe-inspiring meals with his wife, Traxler spends his time behind the bar at Fayetteville, Arkansas’ Sideways on Dickson.
He laments that the crowd is comprised mainly of college students, but adds that there is also a craft beer and cocktail menu that he is proud to have created. “…you can dip your toes into every market,” he boasts of the 150 beers, 115 whiskeys and 24 ciders Sideways stocks.
While he is content running Sideways for now, ultimately Traxler aims to open his own bar. He hopes to achieve his goal within three years but stipulates that he has yet to settle on where he wants it to be. While he appreciates the potential in cities such as Detroit, he adds that having a child in Arkansas means that realistically he will probably stay in the state for the long run. What he does know is what vibe he is aiming for.
“It’s going to be super intimate. I’ve always wanted to do something that incorporates live jazz…”
Those with shallow pockets may not want to hold their collective breath, though. Traxler also wants his establishment to be “…super intimate with very expensive drinks.”
Surprisingly, despite the entire collection of recipes and potential recipes at his disposal, Traxler is a meat-and-potatoes man when it comes to pouring one for himself, preferring whiskey neat (like the bottle of Elijah 18 he got for his last birthday) and, of course, beer.
To check out more of Traxler’s creative libations, drop into Sideways. Even easier? Check out Instagram and take in the photos featuring his newest recipes for some inspiration.