Drew Cranisky is an HR department dream.  He interviewed to work as a server at Franktuary when the restaurant was still a muddy construction zone.  Before long, his interest in all facets of the restaurant lured him behind the bar, where he is now managing the entire program.  You’ll recognize Drew by his signature beard and the light in his eyes when you ask questions about your drink.  And, starting January 20th, he’ll host our weekly 8 pm Tuesday Trivia nights!

A New Jersey native, you ended up in Pittsburgh to attend Chatham University’s food studies master’s program.  What was your focus there, and how has it impacted your craft as a bartender?

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Drew behind the bar

Well, my official focus was writing/communications, which I suppose isn’t directly tied to bartending.  But I think a lot of the stuff we discussed in the classroom does apply to the bar.  Thinking critically about sourcing, figuring out when it makes sense to buy locally, incorporating fresh ingredients…a lot of the things that have caught on in the kitchen are starting to take off in the bar world.

How does Pittsburgh’s cocktail and beer culture compare to other cities?

Most of the city’s distilleries, breweries, and craft cocktail bars have opened in the past decade or so.  The beer and cocktail scenes are fairly young here, which I think is a strength.  There is a lot of enthusiasm and collaboration.  Drinkers and bartenders aren’t as jaded as those in some cities.

In terms of both cocktails and beer, the trend I hope is catching on is a bit of restraint.  With the boom in “craft” everything, everyone started trying to outdo one another, and we ended up with cocktails with arm-length ingredient lists and beers that barely sound like beer.  A crisp lager or a perfectly mixed Old-Fashioned are exciting in and of themselves.  Classics are classic for a reason.

Bartenders occasionally have bizarre interactions with guests.  Tell us an unbelievable anecdote from your time behind the taps.

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Napkin art is always welcome.

Even though Franktuary attracts mostly kind, relatively sane people, there have certainly been some weird times.  That said, I prefer to remember the good ones.  Just the other day, two guys told their server how much they enjoyed their drinks.  Then they both came up to the bar individually to thank me for them.  I thought that was really lovely.  Hardly an unbelievable anecdote, I know.  But those are the moments that make the job special.

What are you most excited about for Franktuary’s bar program in 2015?

I’m looking forward to continuing to hone and reinvent the drinks menu.  I like searching for great beers, incorporating local products, and creating a balanced, focused selection.  I want to continue to push our menu to be exciting, affordable, and appealing to as many people as possible.

Have you found it hard to convince hot dog eaters to drink classy, occasionally obscure cocktails?

I never try to push that stuff on people.  We try to have a little something for everyone, and the important thing is that they get a drink they like.  Of course, if someone is interested in obscure cocktails, I’m happy to talk their ear off.   Hopefully my enthusiasm rubs off on them and they try something they would never have arrived at on their own.

How do you spend your time when you aren’t mixing drinks, developing recipes, or counting bottles?

I do some freelance food and drink writing for a few local publications.  I really like to cook, watch scary movies, and dump way too many quarters into Lawrenceville’s pinball machines.  Oh, and drink.

If you weren’t managing a bar for a living, what would you be doing?

Lead singer of a Crash Test Dummies tribute band.

You’re an avid reader.  Any recommended reading for us?  

In keeping with the drinking theme, I like anything David Wondrich does.  He’s super nerdy, and funny in a sneaky way.  He’s written a few books, and he curated a really excellent database of classic cocktails for Esquire.  Plus, he’s from  Squirrel Hill.  So there’s that.

Join Drew for Tuesday Trivia every week at 8 pm, or find him behind the bar during Sunday brunch and throughout the week!