“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” - Mark Twain
by MaryBeth Augusta
- For The Capitol Hill Times -
“They told me the sky was the limit, but now the sky’s my point of view.” A hellion child and a force to be reckoned with as an adult, there’s not much Nik Virrey can’t do, or hasn’t tried. Sitting in his apartment in the late afternoon sipping tequila I try stumping him.
Painting? His art has been in museums. Sports? With his father as his coach, he’s participated in soccer, football and baseball teams. He hasn’t played the trumpet, but instead plays a mean recorder, the trombone, and guitar. He’s won academic awards and honors. (His 4th grade play about an odd friendship between a bartender and dragon was acted out on stage.) All this makes sense; the man who now aspires to reach the sky used to dream about dragons.
In the business of “liquid management,” Virrey, a bartender at Liberty, Tavern Law and bar manager at Slate Coffee, prides himself on learning all there is to know about spirits. It’s somewhat ironic, considering his upbringing: Nik was raised by a mother who had her first drink only four years ago (a mudslide in Texas, no less) and a father whose drink of choice is Budweiser (“And Cazadores,” he lets me know. “Because of my grandfather.”) With his BFF, former protégé and current colleague, Brandon Paul Weaver (who likes when people use his middle name), Virrey has formed a consulting company, Matte and Gloss. The concept of liquid management is part of Matte and Gloss’ overall design, which contends that bartending is about knowing your drinks, knowing your customers, and knowing your space. It’s an idea that came from Virrey’s father, who taught him that the three rules of life are knowing who you are, knowing who you’re with, and knowing where you are.
Bartending isn’t just about cocktails, Virrey incorporates coffee too. Always teaching, he lets me know that barista is from the Italian for bartender – words that were divided in meaning around the 1900s, into day (coffee barista) and night (bartender). Matte and Gloss plan to reunite the day and night, and they are on their way. In the past two weeks Virrey has won two competitions: Victrola Coffee Fest Party Throwdown and Fortaleza’s 2012 Tequila Cocktail Competition, held at Poquitos. But not on his own – Brandon Paul was his partner for the Throwdown and his coach for the Tequila competition. He also “had the master’s tools.” Virrey’s talking about his partner (and future travel buddy, since they won airfare to Tequila, Mexico) for the Fortaleza competition, Mr. Brian Lee, of Canon. Their winning cocktail was a stunning mix of spirits, seasonal ingredients and impeccable display. Virrey tells me it’s not just about the taste. “Everything’s a full sensory experience,” he says.
From his art-filled apartment to a couch in his second home, Liberty on 15th Avenue, Virrey himself is an experience. “When Nik shines, he illuminates everyone around him, which has been both blinding and beautiful to witness,” says fellow bartender and artist Nate Quiroga.
This article was updated from the original version published in print October 11, 2012 under the same headline.