Elliott Clark created Apartment Bartender to share his love of hosting friends and shaking up a good drink. The enthusiasm of his fans speaks to the way cocktail culture has found a place in people’s kitchens and living rooms once again. Rather than sipping martinis exclusively at upscale cocktail bars, more people are enjoying making their own quality cocktails and learning to maintain their home bar. We chatted with Elliott about his relationship with being a home bartender, his favorite bar tips, and his thoughts on at-home cocktail culture.
First things first—Congratulations on becoming a dad. How do you feel? And what have you been drinking lately?
I've been working with Martell and they sent me a really nice bottle. I've been mainly drinking simple pours of cognac. That said, I'm also taking this as an opportunity to not drink at times. I'm leaning into no-to-low-alcohol stuff like Ritual and Seedlip, seltzer water, etc. A cognac pour is still a nice way to wrap up an evening, though.
Do you have any advice for new parents who appreciate a good drink but will be staying home a lot more with their kids?
Parents can make their lives a little easier by ensuring they have the right tools to make a really good cocktail. You can use regular household kitchen items as alternatives but it can be more frustrating than investing in a good set of bar tools. I would also advise learning some of the classics like an old fashioned, daiquiri, manhattan, or Tom Collins because everything else is basically a riff on those. You can also get creative by simply swapping a spirit or syrup. Ultimately, keeping the ingredient count low and having the right bar tools is a great foundation.
Your approach to bartending is easy to connect to. What do you think makes your content so appealing?
First and foremost, approachability. When I started Apartment Bartender, I did so because I wanted to recreate some of my favorite bar experiences at home without breaking the bank and share what I learned. I want people to see the drinks I make, read the ingredients, and have a light bulb moment of "Oh, I can make this." Then, I think about quality. I want people to see a drink I made and be motivated to try it themselves. I want the quality of my content to make someone stop and think "Man, I really want that drink and, wow, I can actually make it." Next, personality. Through my content, people have learned that I'm a normal person who likes to enjoy cocktails at home. It should be fun and light-hearted and I try to maintain that.
Why do you think you’ve amassed such a large following?
I believe in consistency. When I first started, there weren’t many people sharing cocktails on social media—I feel like one of the OGs in that space. Since 2015, I've focused on drinks and spirits education and that consistency is something people can rely on. Brand partnerships and cross-promotion have also been huge in helping me gain personal exposure but also elevating the drinks space as a whole. During and after quarantine, people started to appreciate what they drink at home more. They realized that making a great drink at home is really important, especially when you're spending more time there.
What about your blog resonates the most with your readers?
It's easy to follow, it's elegant, and it looks good. At the very least, you know you can go to ApartmentBartender.com and get good insight into the basics and fundamentals of things like: making a good drink, how to stock your bar cart, and a great library of recipes to pull from. The blog is not the end-all, be-all of cocktail making but it's a great start to put home bartending into an approachable perspective. I think of it as a digital version of your neighborhood cocktail bar: a place where you go for a good drink, good conversation, and a sense of light-heartedness to go about your day. People can feel like they're getting exactly what they're looking for.
What kind of feedback do you hear from your fans?
Everything has luckily been really positive. People follow Apartment Bartender for a few reasons. Some are nerdy, at-home cocktail enthusiasts like myself, and they enjoy talking about things like the nuances of bourbon, so the response is a dialogue and meaningful engagement. Otherwise, there's tons of curiosity and questions like: fave spots to drink in NYC, Chicago, or Denver? What's my favorite bourbon? They treat me like a friend that's going to provide good and trusted advice. On the other hand, folks from the hospitality industry don't need me to teach them about how to make a drink, so they ask about social media, marketing, and content creation. Education all around.
With recent events, many people haven’t been going out and may prefer to continue mixing up drinks at home. What advice do you have for anyone trying to host cocktail parties with small groups of friends?
First, assess how many people you're serving. That dictates how many cocktails you're making and what type. For example, if you're hosting 4, you can consider an egg white cocktail. However, if you're having 20 people over, if you make an egg white cocktail you're going to spend the whole time shaking and not enjoy the event. Then create a mini menu of cocktails (1–3) and tailor them to people's palates. Think about these three main types: spirit-forward (like a manhattan), citrus-forward (like a daiquiri), or bubbly/refreshing (like a Tom Collins). If it's a larger group of people, make a batched cocktail that people can serve or build themselves. You can get creative with the styling and presentation by thinking about the glassware, how you serve ice, a garnish buffet, and so on. Ultimately, it's about thoughtfulness and less about what you're actually drinking.
I want people to see the drinks I make, read the ingredients, and have a light bulb moment of "Oh, I can make this."
What trends do you see taking hold in the mixology community?
I think about trends in two ways: off-premise (at home or events) and on-premise (at bars and restaurants). During the pandemic, there weren't any on-premise trends to think about because bars were shut down. As things start to open up again—I hope this isn't just a trend—people have been taking drinking at home more seriously. From low-alcohol drinks to canned cocktails to hard seltzers, having good drinks at home is easier than ever. Not everyone will feel comfortable going back out, so It’s important to understand what makes a great drink experience at home and people are finding that to be super valuable.
What influences your cocktail recipes and style?
I think I have two styles: 1) all things Apartment Bartender and 2) Elliott
1) Apartment Bartender recipes are approachable, simple yet elegant drinks that people can make at home. Most of them include 1 spirit with 1 liqueur, and the remaining ingredients should be easy to find, easy to source, and easy to make. I can technically make a recipe with 10 ingredients but few people are going to try to do that at home. I focus on approachable, quality cocktails that you can create around a moment and a sense of community.
2) Then there are times when I want to focus on my personal style. I'm trying to get back to creating things that are just for me; recipes where I can experiment and get weird. For example, I recently pulled 4 bottles out of storage and made a drink with a pear brandy + yellow chartreuse + a spicy honey syrup + a mezcal rinse + gin. Ultimately, the drink wasn't that great but I loved diving back into experimentation and experiencing the joy of making something completely new. I wasn't worried about taking a photo of it or thinking about other people's access to ingredients but embracing my ability to play and experiment. It's fun to think back to the nerdiness of getting inspired by my bar experiences and trying out new things.