Getting to Know Philadelphia Bar Manager Solomon Thomas

When quarantine and lockdowns swept the nation, Brown and Balanced and founder Josh Davis hosted a series of Happy Hours over on Instagram featuring bartenders, servers, and cocktail enthusiasts from all over the U.S. to share their stories and backgrounds. After taking time to rest and restore, Brown and Balanced came back to continue conversations one Friday each month, featuring a special program to highlight different perspectives from the Black Hospitality Community talking issues that matter.

There is also a hand-selected bartender featured each week that should be on your radar. Next up, Solomon Thomas from Philadelphia.

The episode featuring Thomas will air on October 23 on the Portland Cocktail Week Facebook page. Not only will Thomas be sharing about his life and experiences, but will also be creating a cocktail crafted with Wild Turkey 101.

You can keep up with all of Campari America’s industry-focused events and education by following @CampariCommunity or signing up for the Campari mailing list here.

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Thanking my brother @ericn22 for the mention. I’m going to minimize the overlap between our circles, but I know a few people who will help spread this message. 🖤 We are #BlackMen… We Build…We don’t tear down other #BlackMen… We have felt the pain of being torn down and we have decided that we will be deliberate about building others. If I didn’t tag you, please don’t be offended. I tried to pick people I thought would do this challenge. All too often, we men find it easier to criticize each other instead of building each other up. With all the negativity going around, let’s do something #positive. ✊🏾Upload 1 picture of yourself – Only You. Then try to tag at least 10 brothers to do the same Let’s build ourselves up!

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Name, City/State, Most Recent Place Of Employment

Solomon Kahlil Thomas, Newark, NJ, living and working in Philadelphia, PA, Destination Dogs

What are your pronouns?

He/him/his

What is the best part of being a Bartender to you? 

The best part of being a bartender is getting to meet people from the myriad aspects of life. As a hospitality professional, I am able to share moments, gain perspective, and am continually offered the chance to brighten someone else’s day. As bartenders, we wear many hats, but being involved at the moment with another person is the greatest learning potential so to honor this when someone comes to my bar I try to offer my ear before I offer a solution. 

If you weren’t a Bartender, what would you be doing? 

If I weren’t bartending I would probably be in the medical industry. Before this, I was studying cell biology and neuroscience with the intention of becoming an anesthesiologist. I was a good student, fascinated by the nervous system and desired to work at the intersection of health and science. It’s all I ever cared to study, but I realized it wasn’t the career I wanted. 

How did you get started in the industry?

I was working with a friend who was doing private catering events in Philadelphia, we would prep the meal, pair them with beer from amazing breweries in a pop-up style all around the city. I would come down from NJ for a couple of days to help execute the design, prep, service and then we would go out on the town to celebrate the good work. I certainly fell in love with the lifestyle doing that, but retrospectively I think my first hospitality bug bite came when my father showed me, in my youth, the joy of preparing a wonderful meal for someone and from my mother, the importance of being a good host. 

Being a Black/Brown Bartender, what are some of the issues you face?

It’s just a constant battle against assumptions and prejudiced notions. People are quick to assume that I occupy the lowest position in the restaurant vs. the highest which is what I actually hold. Just because I may be seen bussing a table or sweeping and area doesn’t mean that I’m a busser or a custodian. I take pride in my work so no task is below me. People also assume I have less experience than some of my non-BIPOC colleagues and are generally surprised when they hear about the accolades I’ve earned in a relatively short career. Also, specifically being a black male, it seems that I’m always the person asked to handle an obnoxious, belligerent or potentially dangerous customer or intoxicated stranger. It’s almost as if it’s assumed that I have experience with that. I am consistently put in the vanguard. Initially, I was undervalued and overlooked until I took some time off, during which the bar I worked at did not run as smoothly. It took my absence for some management to notice the impact I had on the business. 

What do you feel the leaders can do better, to provide equal opportunities and representation for Black, Indigenous and People of Color in the industry?

Leaders could actively hire, train and mentor young BIPOC hospitality workers. They could start more hospitality education programs in areas more populated by BIPOC individuals. 

If you could describe yourself as a cocktail, what would it be and why?

If I were to describe myself as a cocktail, it would be a boilermaker style combination of a cold refreshing beer and a neat pour of whiskey. Something anyone can find enjoyable, approachable, smooth and comforting. A little bit of fizz to quench your thirst and little spirit-driven burn to keep you excited. 

With the social climate in the world today, I feel like our industry is a microcosm of society. How can you see Black/Brown Bartenders using their platforms to enact change in what we see across the bartending community?

Now that there is some light being cast on us, I’d like to see us take advantage of the chance to have our voices heard and offer our help to others coming up in our industry. We have so much innate creativity in our culture, and our collective palette has been used forever in every industry related to artistic endeavors: food and beverage, fine and performing arts, architecture, literature, often without due credit. Let’s honor each other and show the world the creative power of our cultures by collaborating and highlighting the work of up and coming BIPOC workers. 

If you could pick a dream tea – a starting 5 of Black/Brown Bartenders from your city to open a new place – who would they be and why? 

Jeffrey Pierre, Resa Mueller, Anthony Kelley, Kevin Lopez and Michael Asefaw because they are all team players and want to make our city the best it can be. 

If you could have drinks with anyone dead, alive or fictional, who would it be and what would you both be drinking?

I would have a drink with my great grandfather to gain his perspective on being a black man and a former slave. We’d both be drinking whiskey and lemonade.

The Peach Gobbler Cocktail

  • 4 oz Wild Turkey White Peach Flambé Syrup
  • 1 Scoop Vanilla Ice Cream
  • 2 oz Brooklyn Spritz

To Make Wild Turkey White Peach Flambé Syrup:

Slice 2 white peaches in 1/2 discarding the pit removing the woody area around it on each 1/2. Slice each 1/2 into 1/5 slices. Measure out 3 tablespoons of brown sugar in a separate bowl. Measure 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Melt 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a long-armed skillet over medium-high heat and add brown sugar. Stir to combine butter and sugar and add peach slices to the skillet, one flesh side down. After peaches begin to soften, about 3 minutes, flip the peaches so the other flesh side is down in the pan. Cook for another 1 minute. Remove from heat, turn the burner to low and add 2 oz Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon, 1 oz Appleton Estate 12 year Rare Cask Rum and 1/2 oz Grand Marnier. Shake pan gently to incorporate. Using a long match, light pan, and once lit, continue shaking pan until flames die out and sauce thickens. Once flames are gone, add the contents of the pan to a blender.

Build in a cold 12oz tulip glass add ice cream, then flambé syrup and top with beer. Garnish with 2 slices of white peach on a skewer.

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