Going 10 Rounds With Top Bartender Jesse Held
Talented Minneapolis bartender Jesse Held tackles our speed round of questions.
What do you like to drink after a shift? “Honestly, a glass of (still) rose has always been a calming way to end a hectic night. For some reason, a crisp glass of wine silences the ringing in the ears and reduces the body buzz of an electric night of service.”
What is the all-time best dive bar jukebox song? “So tough to answer, but it has to be the best sing-a-long ever that all generations can connect with. My answer has to be “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. That song brings out everyone’s rock star alter ego.”
After all these years bartending and creating drinks, do you still enjoy going out to bars? “It’s a different experience now than it was years ago when I would go out to a bar. I really do enjoy getting out every once in a while to see what new things the next generation of bartenders is coming up with. At this stage of my career/life, going out to a bar is less about drinking, and more about the complete experience.”
Name the first good drink you ever drank and where you had it. “The first ‘real’ cocktail I had and vividly remember being served was a Sazerac, in a white wine glass, at Town Talk Diner by Adam Harness. It completely changed the way I looked at cocktails and what cocktails should be. It also set the wheels in motion for me to really grab ahold and deeply learn classic cocktail foundations.”
What book on cocktails or spirits is your go-to resource? “There are so many great books out there, but as of today, I’d say my ‘go to’ book is the Death & Co. series (Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails and Cocktail Codex: Fundamentals, Formulas, Evolutions). It’s a great source to bring me back to center and gives me a great refresher to then teach other younger bartenders about the craft.”
What’s your favorite cocktail and food pairing? “Easy answer for me…a classic Martini (2 parts Tanqueray 10 Gin, 1 part Dolin Dry Vermouth, 2 dashes Regans’ Orange Bitters) and fried chicken wings. No idea why or how that happens, but a Martini for me is the pinnacle of cocktails. It’s what every cocktail wants to become and can pretty much go with any food…it just so happens it’s really good with a fried chicken wing! Who knew?”
What drink are you most proud of creating? “Hands down it’s the Parlour Old Fashioned. It might seem like a really elementary cocktail to be proud of, but the combinations of bourbon, rye, sugar, and bitters that I came up with took me a year to perfect. And now, because I took the time to really perfect that cocktail, our bar sells more than 35,000 of them per year and it now has a life of its own within the local cocktail community.”
Is there one person (dead or alive) you’d like to make a cocktail for? “Great question! Marilyn Monroe. I’d love to be her bartender for the night. Her journey and life has always fascinated me.”
What’s your favorite shot-and-a-beer combination? “Maker’s Mark Bourbon and Miller High Life. Go on, it’s OK to judge me. I’m very comfortable in my own skin after this many years.”
What is the one tool that you always make sure to pack when you’re traveling for business? “I guess, at this stage of my career, I feel like I could bartend behind any bar with any kind of tools (or lack thereof). I could adapt cocktails based on the bar environment I found myself in. So, my answer isn’t necessarily a tool but is still important: Swim trunks. You never know if there will be an opportunity to soak in a hot tub, take a dip in the ocean or pool, or get stranded somewhere unexpected. It’s always good traveling practice to be prepared for relaxing.”
Jesse Held helped launch the new Minneapolis restaurant P.S. Steak.
Interview has been condensed and edited.