Mocanu: End of a Madison mixology era.
Madison is saying goodbye this summer to a number of bartenders who have contributed to the city's flourishing drink scene. With growth comes change, and some longtime mixologists are leaving the stick behind to pursue big opportunities in the hospitality industry locally. Others are leaving for different cities altogether.
Chief among the change-ups concerns JR Mocanu, who's taking leave of Merchant to continue bartending in Austin, Texas. Mocanu became one of the youngest bar managers in Madison in 2010, helping push Merchant's program into the national spotlight. He will join the ranks of fellow Merchant alums who have made good elsewhere -- notables such as Matt Young, now manager of Cane & Table in New Orleans, and Jon Nodler, who was sous chef at High Street in Philadelphia and is now at the helm at the reopened a.kitchen.
Taking Mocanu's place will be Thor Messer from the Milwaukee restaurant Blue Jacket. Merchant owners Joshua Berkson and Patrick Sweeney have acknowledged in a press release that "we could not have gotten to the place that we are as an organization without [Mocanu], and he will be missed."
Merchant's Samuel Gauthier is also bit with the travel bug. He participated in the prestigious cocktail apprentice program at the Tales of the Cocktail convention this year and is heading to New York City. He has received national press for his innovative, duck-fat-washed cocktail called Montezuma Wins at Duck Hunt.
At restaurants with intimate bars, big personalities behind the counter become an integral part of the dining experience. Downtown Madison loses two such longtime personalities this summer. Zach Sauer, bar manager at Restaurant Muramoto since 2008, has taken a full-time position with Square Toast Technologies, a local company that provides point-of-sale systems for restaurants.
Kevin Trottier helped paint the interior of Osteria Papavero when it was opening and struck up a friendship with proprietor Francesco Mangano that culminated in a manager position for the restaurant for the past eight years. Trottier leaves the legacy of one of the best-curated wine-lists in the city, plus a whimsical cocktail program, to become a wine sales representative locally.
Grant Hurless arrived in Madison to join Nostrano's team when his then fiancée -- now wife -- started medical school at UW. In his native Chicago, he worked under famed bartender Charles Joly at the Drawing Room. Hurless became bar manager at Heritage Tavern when it opened last fall, and he is leaving to become a sales consultant for Wirtz Beverage here in Madison.
It will be 13 years behind the bar for Darcy Fredrickson this summer. She's leaving Genna's to "head west."
Mark Sannito of Plan B is also "in need of a career change." He plans to step down as bar manager at Plan B in about two months to begin the process of becoming a firefighter. "I will still be bartending on the side," says Sannito, "But I am going to dedicate much of my time and life to this new career. It will be a more fulfilling and stable job for me to build a family with the love of my life, Robert. This has been fun everyone, but its time for a change."
"The Madison bartending community is so strong, and the way cocktailing has grown in the last five years is just mind-blowing," says Mocanu. "I can't wait to see what happens here."