Turning an ordinary drink into an experience certainly depends on the ingredients, but who’s making it is even more crucial. In the hands of master bartender Ro Patel, a drink is a drink, but it’s also a story — a history of the craft and a lifetime of perfecting it. And yet it almost wasn’t meant to be.
“I was studying exercise science and sports medicine, and I realized it wasn’t for me,” says Patel, a native of London, England. “I started bartending at 20 years old, and it wasn’t a notable bar. However, I loved the interaction with guests, so I switched to a better work environment that fit my needs.”
Patel’s new workplace wasn’t just any bar, but the world-famous Dick’s Bar located inside the Atlantic Bar & Grill. Named for bartending pioneer Dick Bradsell, the historic speakeasy was a cornerstone of London’s cocktail revival in the 1990s. At just 22, Patel was named its head bartender.
“Every cocktail had to be perfect,” he says. “The cover was $50 and the clientele included royalty and A-list celebrities. The responsibility was frightening, but I was lucky I had amazing mentors.”
Patel’s talents behind the bar led him out of London and around the world for years, but a holiday on Anna Maria Island in the early 2000s proved to be a life-altering experience. As a father with young children looking to settle down, Patel found Tampa appealing, but it had an abysmal cocktail scene, he says. Instead of a positive experience, he notes, guests were paying moderate to expensive prices for bad cocktails. Patel opened Ciro’s Speakeasy in his adopted hometown in 2007 as an antidote, helping usher in the city’s current craft cocktail craze.
“In a time where pairing soda with spirits was a cocktail, we pushed the envelope by using fresh ingredients and explaining these recipes to our customers who appreciated our knowledge,” he says.
Following Ciro’s success, Patel opened the consulting firm Sling Bar Company in 2011 to advise and collaborate with the with the bartending community in Tampa. Patel has also designed the cocktail programs for Anise Global Gastrobar, Grille One Sixteen, The Collection in the Hall on Franklin, Franklin Manor in Downtown Tampa, the Getaway in St. Petersburg and many more bars around the world.
“The hardest and most essential part of bar consulting is being knowledgeable about cocktail trends, whether it’s knowing how to craft a martini or an elevated, simple cocktail with a fresh juice mixer,” Patel says.
“However, this pushes me to continue to identify new and exciting cocktail programs for bars and my guests.”
Patel continues to create innovative new drinks with French and Floridian twists and encourages more creative approaches to drinking.
“Everyone should know how to make simple, elevated cocktails that use high-quality spirits and fresh, local ingredients,” he says. “You don’t need to be a professional bartender or bar consultant to create a delicious cocktail at home.”
Patel is also a collaborator with Pinnacle Vodka. See one of his favorite cocktail recipes below. “My favorite drink that I created alongside Pinnacle Vodka is the Pinnacle Florida Breeze, inspired of course, by our home state,” he says. “The Florida pink grapefruit is a great complement to the smooth, crisp nature of the French vodka, and it’s incredibly easy to recreate at home and it does not require any bar tools – it can be built right in the glass.”
Pinnacle Florida Breeze
2 parts Pinnacle Original Vodka
4 parts fresh Florida pink grapefruit juice
1 part pomegranate juice
Thin grapefruit wheel for garnish
Build in a highball glass. Fill the glass with cubed ice. Add pomegranate juice to the bottom of the glass. Next, add Pinnacle Original Vodka and fresh pink grapefruit juice. Lightly stir and serve. Garnish with a thin grapefruit wheel.
Read about Patel’s Hall on Franklin neighbor, Bake’n Babes’ Julie Curry, here