Tales of a High Volume Bartender: Spencer Elliott of Bounce Sporting Club

Cocktail culture about ultra craft bars & bartenders is all the craze these days. But there is also something to be said for the hustling super high-volume bartenders, the ones who can handle the twelve-deep crowds and manage to keep it all order. We caught up with Spencer Elliott from Bounce Sporting Club – one of the most high volume bars in NYC, and, for sports, one of the very busiest and wildest in the U.S. Known for its crazy Sunday Funday parties with professional athletes and celebrities, Bounce caters to the bottle service and is a heavy vodka-and-soda crowd but is also curating an impressive craft cocktail program lead by Elliott at the Flatiron hangout.

With Bounce Sporting Club’s new cocktail menu launching along with the upcoming NFL playoff season, thirsty had a few questions for Spencer:

Why bother?

It’s actually funny that I get this question a lot within the industry. The long answer is when a certain type of customer walks into a cocktail bar they’re off the bat looking for a quality cocktail program with innovative techniques and complex taste variations. I want a customer who walks into Bounce to receive just the same kind of cocktail program and not even expect it.

Our clientele is mainly a beer and single liquor mixed drink crowd, but if I can get just a few people to try a cocktail with fresh ingredients and quality spirits I feel like I’ve impacted not only that person’s idea of Bounce but of that persons view of the high volume bar industry. The short answer, I bother because even in the thick of the weeds with 4 rows deep, ten tickets on service, and someone screaming about Romo, I can still make a difference in someone’s cocktail experience.

What made you take an interest in the craft and care about the cocktail program?

It was a combination of things really, I had been in a business management position while working at Bounce on weekends. Even though I have a degree is Marine Business and Commerce and had been working towards a career outside of this industry it took me my first desk job to understand that I wasn’t bound for the desk. Realizing at 26 you’ve been working towards something you don’t really like is kind of a bummer. However, I’d been working in a bar since college and I had always liked my weekends because of it. When I finally gave this industry my full attention I understood the depth and amazing culture surrounding it. I got hooked and decided to pivot and apply all that I’d learned into he program and then to learn all I could about the science and business of craft cocktails.

During Bounce’s famous SundayFunday football viewing parties, how often do customers ask for a craft cocktail?

Not as often as I’d like, but its always nice change of pace from the usual when I get someone interested in something a bit more complicated. We have a client who likes to get bottle service with the traditional vodka and champagne for his guests, but for him he’ll order Rye Old Fashioneds. I love being about to offer an amazing table service experience with the added benefit of offering finely crafted classic and signature cocktails to someone who may not fit into that “bottle service” mold.

When do you know a customer is serious about drinks?

Generally I know a customers is “bar savvy” if as soon as they get to the bar they know what they want how they want it and kind of spirit/libation they choose. Your first order will tell me everything about you. A vodka and soda drinker doesn’t tell me much besides you don’t really care how you get drunk just as long as you get there.

A whiskey on the rocks tells me you can drink and you’re probably good at it but without a preference you might as well not have a palate. A DonJulio on the rocks says we can be friends. However, if on the occasional chance you order a cocktail off the menu I always appreciate and kind of have a little celebration in my head. It means given the little information on the menu you trust me enough to show you a part of my passion.

What is your current bartender’s choice?

Right now I’m working on a gin cocktail seeing as I feel like it’s not as strong as some of my other pursuits, I feel can get better is with practice. I’m infusing Aperol with pink peppercorn and carrots adding ginger liqueur and lemon. The result is an interesting herbal and slightly spice heavy yet oddly refreshing concoction.

What was the cocktail that opened your eyes to real bartending?

I wouldn’t say there is fake bartending or real bartending only how seriously you take the craft. A monkey can open a beer but only someone truly passionate about bartending can really give an a customer an amazing experience.

What are big pet peeve of other high volume bartenders?

Cleanliness. Like with any occupation a clean workstation is an efficient workstation whether you’re a chef, or a bartender. I can’t stand when I venture into someone’s station and there’s ice everywhere tins strewn about and for some reason everything always sticky. Takes 10 additional second per cocktail so clean everything!

Bounce has a reputation of being wild & crazy with dancers, drummers, laser robots and huge bear costumed mascots often found on the bar – so what do you want people to actually know about the bartenders and bar program?

We actually have a supreme amount of talent on Bounce’s bar team. Most of us have been here for at least two to three years so we are well versed with the bar setup and all newcomers are quick to get into the swing of things. As one of the only males on staff I get a lot of people commenting on how I should love my job because I get to work next to some of the most beautiful people in the business. I wholeheartedly agree, but I’m even more humbled, and impressed, because of how good they are at what they do as well.

Can you tell if someone wants to be more adventurous but just doesn’t have the knowledge to try something new?  If so, how do you help expand their palate?

Never be timid about asking a bartender what to drink. We’re the experts! We’ve made all the mistakes and have paid for them the next day. The tough part is when someone asks to make something “special” or “new, but not too sweet,” yet not having a general direction for me to go on. I love coming up with new ideas and cocktails but give me a few ideas of what you might like or a spirit you have come to enjoy. This will help me so I don’t make you something herbal and spirit forward when you really wanted something spicy and citrusy.

What’s the biggest drink order you ever took?

I have a pretty decent memory. Ten drinks or so and I’ll start to have to ask twice. The trouble is when you don’t know what you want or are asking the rest of your group in the middle of ordering. Ordering a few cocktails at a time is a slight annoyance as well. People who think they need to “help” me by ordering one drink at a time is never helping.

On a busy night, how can someone best get your attention at a bar packed 5 deep?

Patience is a virtue. I loathe snappers, grabbers, money flappers and everything between. If you’re at the bar I go up and down the line. I don’t choose girls first or whoever I like first I just go up the bar and down the bar eventually ill get to you. With that said, it will be ten times easier getting your second round if in the first you were patient, knew what you wanted, had payment ready when your drinks are, and tip accordingly. Then I will generally remember and hit you first.

Tips for Bounce-goers for this football season to have fun and get their drink on and keep it all gravy, baby?

Come with a good attitude! Bounce is fun and we hope you have fun here. People who get so into their sport to let it affect their attitude is a tough mindset to have. If you get that upset about your team losing that you need to take it out on the bar staff you may want to sit this season out. Besides that we have a great bar team and energetic and amazing servers and even our managers get in on the fun so we try to make everyone’s experience truly unforgettable.

Anyone or any bars you want to shout out or thank for your cocktail journey?

The lovely ladies at The SamePaige Company for always giving me inspiration on drinks and great places to go and check out. Josh Mazza from Seamstress and Steve Laycock from Ducks Eatery are always a wealth of knowledge and experience. Benny Silman and Yosi Benvenisti our owners at Bounce for giving me the opportunity and tons and tons of alcohol to play with.

Shameless plug time – what are you working on?

This season is Bouncing away and I just released a new cocktail menu. It was a lot of fun to work with some great brands as well as some interesting tastes. Im planning on bring back some hot cocktails for the winter so come check out what Bounce has cookin!

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