Bartender At Large Documentary Celebrates Quality Bars In Unexpected Places

Updated 11/15/16, 6:38 p.m.

Filmmaker Erick Castro recently hosted a screening of his new movie, Bartender At Large. “Filmmaking” is a relatively new item on his résumé. A self-described bartender at heart, Castro is part of CH Projects, a San Diego-based company that runs many acclaimed bars and restaurants, including the newly remodeled and reopened Craft & Commerce, Fairweather, Neighborhood, speakeasy Noble Experiment, hidden tiki bar False Idol and a 2015 James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Bar Program, Polite Provisions. Castro also runs the bar Boilermaker in New York.

So, yeah, the guy is a little busy but somehow he still found time to make a documentary named Bartender At Large. “I’m guilty of burning the candle at both ends,” laughed Castro. “I like to be busy. I do my best work when I’m overwhelmed. My wife thinks I’m crazy but I like to be involved with multiple projects.”

It took about five years for Castro to get Bartender At Large made. Initially, he considered finding a sponsor like a spirits brand, but eventually discarded the idea. “It was going to turn into a commercial, not a documentary. We wanted a piece of journalism, not just ‘Drink Brand X.’”

Castro’s inspiration for Bartender At Large are the high-quality bars in cities that are not known for their cocktail scenes. “So much of what we hear about is New York, L.A. and San Francisco and it’s important to remind people that there are some amazing cocktails going on across the country. It’s not just the places we are hearing about over and over.”

Castro cites Boise, Idaho as an example. “I had cocktails there that were as good as those in some of the finest hotel bars in the world,” he said. “My wife and I were just walking down the street and said, ‘Hey, let’s get a drink.’ We walk in the place and I order an Old Fashioned. The bartender puts on gloves, reaches into his ice bin, pulls out a Japanese ice cutting knife and cuts a diamond.’ I was like, ‘Where am I?’ This is happening in cocktail bars across the country. It’s not just obvious places anymore.”

To Castro, those lesser-known towns with burgeoning cocktail scenes are more exciting right now than the usual metropolitan suspects. “When you go to some of the more virgin markets, those bartenders are just so excited to be making good drinks for people and the guests at the bars are thrilled to be drinking these cocktails. There’s more of an honesty to it.”

Castro is still determining which avenue is best for a wide release but is considering easily accessible options such as Netflix and iTunes.

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