Mark Allen 

A toast to Boise's best barkeep

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He's 25 and for four years running, he's been named best local bartender in BW's Best of Boise. Over the course of our conversation, we asked Red Feather's head bartender to mix us Manhattans, martinis and hot buttered rums. Not a bad icebreaker for our final citizen of 2010.

Let's say we're just starting our evening. We'll have dinner later, what might you recommend?

Probably a stronger drink to wake your mouth up, getting your tastebuds ready for food. What do you say we start with a Manhattan? Now, the key that sets our Manhattan apart from one you might order somewhere else is Antica, a high-quality sweet vermouth. A lot of people might go for a very high-end bourbon, but then they'll dump Martini and Rossi vermouth in it, and that jeopardizes the quality of the backbone of the drink. So I'm using Old Overholt rye and Antica Formula vermouth, a couple dashes of Peychaud's bitters and a teaspoon of bourbon cherry marinade. I'm going to stir this because if you have a Manhattan that is shaken, it might fall apart very quickly and become an overly smooth drink. Here, I think people want a little bit of heat. Stir it for 15 to 20 seconds. If you keep stirring it, the ice breaks up and floats to the top rather than cooling the whole drink. For this drink, our pastry chef, Jami Gott, makes us wonderful cherries. She makes a lot of our garnishes, which is a nice supplement. A little bit of fresh lemon for some zest as you're approaching the glass, and there you go.

When did you start spending time around food and beverages?

I was 15 when I started working at the Boise Co-op. I bagged groceries and then moved into their grocery department. I got my foot in the door here at the Red Feather in 2003. I was bussing tables. I knew immediately that I wanted to be a bar-back.

What's a bar-back?

I was assisting the bartenders. Changing kegs. Making cordials. Making fresh juices every morning. It's rudimentary bartending.

What's the secret of being a successful bartender?

You can have 20 years of bar experience and just not fit the program.

So when you do have to hire, what are you looking for?

Honestly, I think you look for someone who hasn't been bartending too long to the point they're set in their ways. You're looking for someone who is adaptable. I think working for [owner] Dave Krick, you've got to be able to adapt to change.

What changes have you gone through?

Several. Just the way our programs have evolved--going from making just lemon drops and cosmos to what we think are more complex and challenging drinks.

Such as?

Like that Manhattan. There's a reason that drink is older than we are and will still be here long after we're gone. It's perfection and simplicity. There's not a 10-part mixture of ingredients that I'm going to try to wow you with. It's straight and to the point.

Do you and your colleagues experiment?

Sure. We'll meet as a bar staff and maybe someone will bring a flavor-pairing idea. One of our most popular summer drinks came about from that. It's called the Allen Project. Fresh muddled ginger, fresh lemon, a little bit of pineapple juice, extra-dry gin and ginger ale.

The rap on New Year's Eve is that it's amateurs' night.

It seems like any holiday gets that rap. I would probably give New Year's Eve less of an amateur tag than, say, Halloween. I think generally everybody likes to go out on New Year's Eve.

What might be a popular New Year's Eve drink?

How about a French 75? Some really good gin, fresh lemon, sugar and champagne.

Talk a bit about other bartenders in this town that you know or respect.

A bartender is so much more than just a good drink. One of my favorites is Sean Early at Bardenay, he could easily win the nicest guy on the planet award.

What's the difference between a good bartender and a great bartender?

Passion. I think if you're inspired, you're probably a better bartender than you think.

Any resolutions for 2011?

It's a time to get re-inspired. I think a lot of people don't realize how good we have it here in Boise. Between Bardenay, The Modern, Chandlers and here, you can always get a great drink.

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