Nick Kosevich: A bitters-sweet cocktail tale, part 1

Nick Kosevich -- the drink mix master

Nick Kosevich -- the drink mix master

When you walk inside and see a stout fellow with a curly, ginger beard standing behind the bar, dapper in a tidy vest, tie held in place with a glinting clip, waving his hands above a glass, you know the best show in town has begun. With a masterful twist, splash, vigorous shake, and a smile, he holds court like a dashing snake oil salesman. What he's pouring will most certainly cure even the worst of ills.

Take a peek behind the curtain of the great and masterful Nick Kosevich, proprietor of Bittercube Bitters, partner with Eat Street Social, Best Bartender, and harbinger of cocktail change.


On a sunny afternoon, over salads and Cherry Bark Bitters-topped seltzers, we had a chance to get to know the man behind the beard. Kosevich was integral in the supernova of talent that passed through the doors of the Town Talk Diner. Along with owners Aaron Johnson and Tim Niver, he created cocktails that drew national press and long lines of fans, jockeying for space at the tiny diner bar.

Now, he and Bittercube partner Ira Koplowitz travel around the Midwest selling their handcrafted bitters, as well as sharing their expertise with eager restaurateurs. Today we find out where it all began.

The Hot Dish:Where did you grow up?
Nick Kosevich: Fairbault, Minnesota -- born and raised.

HD: Where did you go to school?
Kosevich: The U of  M, twice.  First for theater and then English. Mostly I majored in having too much fun.

HD: What was your first job in the industry?
Kosevich: Palomino (in downtown Minneapolis). I started out as a lunch busboy, then dinner, then a bar back, to expo, and then ran the gamut of front-of-house.

Then I moved to Naples, Florida, and worked at a restaurant called Tropical Reef. It was my first experience with a small, independent restaurant. I learned a lot -- a lot, a lot, a lot from Palomino, but it was very corporate.  This was a whole different thing. Chef owned, small -- it was an amazing place. I was a server there.

HD: How did you come to the Town Talk?
Kosevich: I had two separate friends who told me about it. One said I needed to meet with Aaron Johnson. Then another friend said I should meet with Tim Niver about a place that he was opening up, but they were for the same place.

I met Tim six months before Town Talk opened. I came in for an interview and ended up staying for hours. I started out as a server but would go behind the bar with Aaron.

HD: What was it about the Town Talk that made it so special? It seems like almost all the great drink makers in the Twin Cities spent some time there.
Kosevich: It was the math and science and the artistic -- a greater knowledge with an air of casual conviviality. I attribute it to Aaron and Tim. It was there that I realized that this could be a career.

Until then, I was always trying to go back to school and be an English teacher. I realized that this was a path.

From the day it opened, Aaron's vision of what we do was inspired by food flavors and techniques, but in cocktails. It was very creative. To work with him, behind the counter five nights a week -- it was a great team from day 1.

HD: How has the way we drink changed since then?
Kosevich: Since then, 2006 to today at Eat Street Social 2013, it's night and day.  Back then, Manhattans were still being shaken. There was no technique. There were no "craft" cocktails. It was about building flavor profiles.

When I started doing craft cocktails was after meeting Ira at Violet Hour. I went to Chicago for my birthday, and we spent two days drinking. I came home and realized I know nothing. He's like, "Put a fucking bar spoon in your hand and stir it! There's no fucking citrus in that drink!"

Join us tomorrow to find out how Kosevich and Koplowitz joined forces.