It's not quite the same as Murray-gate, but shocking nonetheless: Open less than two weeks, the perpetually packed Ba Bar has jettisoned its imported San Francisco bar manager hire in favor of a well-regarded replacement from Bellevue Thai spot Chantanee.
As Seattle Times cocktail guy Tan Vinh reported on Twitter recently, Evan Martin of Chantanee and its bar-within-a-restaurant Naga Cocktail Lounge will take over Ba Bar's cocktail program. He replaces Danny Jeffers, who Ba Bar owner Eric Banh let go last week because, among other things, he couldn't confirm that he actually worked at prestigious San Francisco cocktail spot Bar Agricole.
Two weeks ago, Bar Agricole owner Thad Vogler left a comment on one of Jess Voelker's pieces, saying that Jeffers never actually worked for him. Banh, who had checked with the references Jeffers had provided on his resume, decided to call Bar Agricole to determine the real situation with his new bar manager. He connected with Vogler, who is a fixture in San Francisco's cocktail scene, and found that he's an Olympia-area native who still stays on top of Seattle's restaurant news.
Banh said he talked through the situation with Vogler, who allowed that he meets and works with many bartenders in his consultant capacity. However Vogler said he didn't recall anybody by Jeffers's name working for him, and assured Banh that nobody gets behind the bar at Bar Agricole unless he knows them.
"Literally my heart almost dropped to the floor," recalls Banh. "I don't know as much about spirits and cocktails. At least with wine I know enough to detect who's being malicious."
Banh, who prides himself on helping mold and develop young staffers, called Jeffers and said, "Danny, I just talked to Thad from Bar Agricole. I want to hear it from you." He says his bar manager waited two seconds, let out a deep breath, and apologized for lying on his resume.
"It was really difficult to talk to my business partners about this," says Banh. I did the hiring and it made me look like a complete fool."
At this point, Jeffers had been on salary for weeks, working on the cocktail menu at Monsoon East, where the bar staff complained that he left a big mess. He also spent $15,000 on stocking Ba Bar. "Every time I look at the bar and the equipment we have, and all the toys, I say 'there's my car right there,'" says Banh. He chalked the falsehood up to "stupid young person mistakes," and told Jeffers he would keep him on. "Just start over," Banh told him,"and show people you're good regardless."
However on opening day, Banh says Jeffers stayed at the bar drinking until 4 a.m. The scenario repeated itself the next day. Banh gave Jeffers a stern warning about violating liquor laws and the level of responsibility that goes with a managerial role. "I will remove you if it happens again," was his final word.
The next morning, Banh said he got a text from a barista, saying Jeffers was still at the bar at 8 a.m. "That's when I put the axe down," says Banh. He let Jeffers go this past Wednesday.
"All the bartenders in town came over to check him out," says Banh. He says Jeffers couldn't handle the pressure, and that his behavior was "self-destruction, like something in Shakespeare."
Meanwhile Banh said he had already begun looking for a new bar manager to work alongside Jeffers, but assume the managerial role. A recommendation led him to Evan Martin at Chantanee. "The ironic thing is I brought Danny to all these great bars, and this was one of them," recalls Banh. "Even Danny said, 'this guy's good.'"
Martin, with his background with Thai-friendly craft cocktails, will likely make a smooth transition to complementing Ba Bar's Vietnamese street food-inspired menu. He also comes with his own mighty impressive (and, even better, verified) pedigree: one of his creations, a variation on the classic planter's punch, won a contest and was proclaimed the official drink of uber-cocktail gathering Tales of the Cocktail last year. In April, Vinh proclaimed that same three-rum drink, dubbed Death in the South Pacific, one of his favorite cocktails in all the land.
According to Ms. Voelker, Martin is overhauling the cocktail list to incorporate "a mix of classics, tiki drinks, and original cocktails, some of which will incorporate ingredients common to Vietnamese cuisine."
Martin will make a few appearances at Ba Bar in the coming weeks, but he's off to New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail, and will begin full-time at the start of August. Until then, Banh was worried about being without a cocktail program at his new spot. He told the staff he would scale down to beer and wine if necessary.
Instead, he said, the bar staff at Monsoon East volunteered to work at Ba Bar for the remainder of the month. The gesture was a touching one for Banh.
"Right now Monsoon East is saving us," he says. "I have such a loyal staff behind me."
Ba Bar, by the way, starts lunch service today, and will expand to breakfast when the staff has a moment to catch its proverbial breath.