Most people don’t talk about a normal day at work with the same reverence as Joshua Madrid.
“There’s laughter and good conversation and good energy, and the kitchen is humming along, and it’s just … it’s just magical,” he said.
That’s how he describes a night at the Multnomah Whiskey Library, the high-end Portland bar where he works. Even for the cocktail novice, it’s a spectacular place: with leather chairs, ornate woodwork and roughly 2,000 bottles of high-end spirits displayed on soaring, five-tiered shelves.
Madrid has worked as a bartender for 20 years, so when his industry ground to a sudden halt in mid-March, it felt like a tectonic shift. On his final night behind the bar, the normally bustling lounge was eerily quiet. He and his colleagues watched online as, one after another, high-profile bars across the country announced they were closing.
“Every few minutes it was another major bar in New York, or Chicago, or LA,” he recalled. “It was like: It’s coming, it’s coming for us.”
Madrid’s first concern was for his family. He’s a husband and a father, and realized his half of the family’s income was about to evaporate.
That’s when he noticed a few bartenders were going online and doing what they do best: making drinks, mostly for one another, on Instagram. A lightbulb went on.
“So I was like, let’s do something on Facebook and call it pantry cocktails, just make really simple drinks with stuff most people have at home,” he said.
He drew up a shopping list and posted it online. Then on Saturday, he set up a makeshift workspace in his kitchen and logged onto Facebook Live.
The first broadcast was all about improvisation. Don’t have a cocktail shaker? A water bottle or travel coffee mug will do just fine. No stirring spoon? Pull out a chopstick.
He talked through the history of the drinks he was making, offered tips on technique and mixed a couple of cocktails — offering a cheers and then passing the drink to his wife, Chelsae, who was eagerly waiting just off-camera.
After an hour he was ready to sign off, but his virtual guests were adamant he come back for another class the following weekend.
The Pantry Cocktail Hour was born.
Pulling up a barstool
Maggie Sewell and her partner, Ethan Johnson, weren’t big cocktail people — they tended to stick to craft beer when they went out with friends. But she was friends with Chelsae and Joshua Madrid, and were intrigued by his little cocktail happy hour on Facebook.
“There wasn’t anything to look forward to,” Sewell said. “We went to work and came home and that was it. You couldn’t grab drinks with your friends but this was something we could look forward to.”
They tuned in to the first broadcast and were hooked. They loved learning something new and that they didn’t need fancy equipment to do it. The next week, they picked up the ingredients on Joshua’s shopping list and were ready to mix along at home.
They’ve been tuning in every week — and learning to make drinks at home — ever since.
Business is brisk
Madrid himself was surprised when his little pantry cocktail experiment caught on.
“I thought I would do two or three, maybe, and then it would be done,” he said.
But word of mouth spread, and new viewers began tuning in every week. Now, his virtual bar hosts guests in Atlanta, Colorado, Tennessee and Tokyo.
Since the beginning, Madrid has taught his guests how to make 21 different cocktails. The weekly shopping list is expanding beyond pantry staples, incorporating more exotic ingredients.
Still, Madrid said it’s been therapeutic to find a way to recreate the experience of being at work.
“Family are there, friends are there and total strangers are there,” he said. “For me that’s what I miss: that interaction with guests.”
Just this week, most counties in Oregon were approved to begin the slow process of reopening. Soon, it’s expected that bartenders in Multnomah County will be going back to work as well. Madrid said he’s anxious, worried that the economic strain of closures and social distancing limits will put more and more bartenders out of work.
For now though, you can still catch him bartending one night a week, from his kitchen.
“There’s this moment right before I click the button to go live where I kind of look around my kitchen and it’s like: I’m set for service. I’m ready. Let’s go.”
You can tune into Joshua Madrid’s Pantry Cocktail Hour on Saturday, May 16 at 5 p.m. PT here.
This week’s shopping list:
- blended Scotch whisky
- lemon juice
- honey syrup
- ginger syrup
- peated scotch whisky
- lime juice
- lemon juice
- simple syrup
- heavy cream
- egg white
- orange flower water
- Irish whiskey
- sweet vermouth
- green chartreuse
- lemon for garnish
Use the audio player above to hear the full conversation from OPB’s “Weekend Edition.”