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April 23, 2014

Ferndale bartender named one of the best in America

By Joshua Gordon
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Shane McGrath, a Ferndale-based bartender, mixes a drink April 18 at The Oakland in Ferndale. McGrath recently was named one of America’s 25 best bartenders by The Daily Meal.

FERNDALE — At the age of 14, Shane McGrath got his first job in the service industry bussing tables for a local restaurant. At the bottom of the totem pole, McGrath regularly watched the bartenders in awe.

“I looked up to the bartenders, as they seemed like they had the best job in the place,” McGrath said. “When I was 18, I started bartending and worked in a lot of dive bars before The Oakland first opened in 2011.”

At 26, McGrath has been bartending for eight years, the last three years at The Oakland in Ferndale. The Oakland opened in July 2011, and McGrath came on staff only two weeks later.

Crafting new cocktails and engaging with patrons has made every day of work one that McGrath looks forward to. And his continuously developing palate has allowed McGrath to stand out with his drink creations, as The Daily Meal named him one of America’s 25 best bartenders.

“I was in The Oakland on my day off and the phone rang, and someone was asking for me, and she was from The Daily Meal,” McGrath, of Ferndale, said. “She emailed me some questions, and then here was this article with me on this list. I didn’t expect it, but it was pretty awesome.”

Last September, McGrath was part of the Bombay Sapphire competition in Detroit and was named Detroit’s most imaginative bartender, earning a trip to Las Vegas to do more work with Bombay Sapphire.

While in Las Vegas, McGrath was asked to be part of America’s Bartender, a documentary on the contest that had McGrath and three of the other 50 winners doing tutorial videos on making drinks.

Winning the award and being part of the documentary is what caught The Daily Meal’s eye, McGrath said, as they were looking for bartenders who were making waves in the field.

“I love the work, first, of being a bartender, as it is almost like being a chef, but with liquids,” McGrath said. “It is really exciting and fun to create new flavors, and I am more of a social person, so I like the idea of getting to talk to new people every night. I have the best job, because I am the host of a party every night and I want to make sure everyone has a good time and leaves smiling and happy.”

McGrath started at The Oakland as a bar back and has worked in every position up to bartender.

Owner Sandy Levine said McGrath’s welcoming personality has made him a successful bartender, as well as his drive to keep learning.

“Shane has a really good sense of humor and a very nice personality, and is the kind of person a lot of people like interacting with,” Levine said. “He is very friendly and doesn’t have any sort of air of arrogance at all, as he is very approachable and connects with a lot of different types of people. As a bar owner, I think his humility goes a really long way and keeps him on his toes, as he is not complacent with knowledge or service and is always looking to improve.

“I have been in the restaurant business for 25 years, and his progress over the past three, it’s incredible how far he has come. Usually, people who make headway in a short amount of time get complacent, but he is the opposite and it has almost made him more driven to learn more.”

Another one of McGrath’s valuable assets, Levine said, is his palate has expanded since he began working at The Oakland, which has enabled him to work with several spirits.

One of McGrath’s most successful cocktails is the Gin Tiki, which won him the Bombay Sapphire competition and continues to be a top seller at The Oakland. McGrath said he has expanded to trying new things in creating cocktails, such as using jams or certain types of spices.

While McGrath enjoys crafting new drinks on a regular basis, he said that interacting with people on a daily basis might be his favorite part of his job.

“I have made some friendships with people who were just patrons at the bar, and (when) I go out and run into them in other places, they get so excited to meet you from outside the bar,” McGrath said. “I have people come visit time and time again because they like what we do, and I am building relationships with people just over drinks.”

For more on The Daily Meal’s best bartenders list, visit www.thedailymeal.com/america-s-25-best-bartenders.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Joshua Gordon at jgordon@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1077.