Happy Hour with Kevin Bragg
Catching up with the barman behind Midtown's new Grain and Buckhead's Seven Lamps
All it took to get Kevin Bragg into bartending was a dare. At age 21, he had never worked behind a bar before, but his roommate bet him he couldn't last a week in the business. One week later, Bragg's fate was sealed, albeit initially at suburban chain restaurants and dive bars. Bragg learned his way behind the bar by reading vintage cocktail books. In 2010 he landed at 4th and Swift, where he, "developed a much greater appreciation for a culinary influence in cocktails."
In late 2013, Bragg was named Beverage Director at Seven Lamps in Buckhead, which is known for its playful attitude toward drink-making and its creative slushies (Tequila and Krispy Kreme with espresso, anyone?). Recently, as beverage director/partner, Bragg helped launch the intimate new Grain in Midtown.
For those who are unfamiliar, describe Grain in one sentence.
A friendly, neighborhood bar, that happens to have great food and cocktails.
How has it been, juggling your duties at both Grain and Seven Lamps?
Grain is still so new that I'm there almost every day, and I'm fortunate enough to have some great people working with me. Madison Burch is an amazingly talented up-and-comer. She is essentially my sous chef between Grain and Seven Lamps. She keeps things running at Seven Lamps, and I couldn't do it without her.
Who — dead or alive — would you most like to meet and make a drink for?
I'm a descendant of President John Adams and have always been fascinated with his life. He drank hard cider almost every morning. I'm sure we could share a few.
What drink best expresses your personality?
The Negroni. A little sweet, a little bitter.
Secret guilty pleasure drink?
You get one artist to listen to behind the bar this week. Only one. Who is it?
Cake. I've seen them more than any other band.
What was the last great drink you had?
The Bicycle Thief at Empire State South. Kellie Thorn makes some damn fine cocktails, and this one is booze forward, but not the brooding, heavy, or super bitter type that is so prevalent today. It has a delicate femininity that is distinctly Kellie.
What comes to mind when you hear the words ...
Bitters: Bartenders' spice rack
Fernet: Bartenders' crack
Smirnoff Fluffed Marshmallow: For sorority girls
Fireball: No, thanks
When you're not thinking about food and drink and hospitality, what are you most curious about?
I'm really into history. World War II has always been fascinating to me. I also have an unhealthy obsession with "Doctor Who." There's a miniature TARDIS on the back bar at Grain.
What are your thoughts on how Atlanta's cocktail scene has evolved?
It's amazing how far this city has come in the last few years. You used to be able to count on one hand the number of places where you could get great cocktails. Now every neighborhood seems to have a handful. I think we're going to see a little backlash from how cocktail-centric everything has become. I think more bars are going to have a more fun side to them as opposed to taking the drinks so seriously.
It seems like there's a lot of camaraderie within the bartender community here. Is that unique to Atlanta?
The Atlanta chapter of the United States Bartenders' Guild has done an amazing job bringing bartenders together for education, networking, and having fun. Most of my closest friends are bartenders in town, and one of my favorite USBG events is the Taste of Atlanta barcraft competition. It challenges the bartenders in a variety of rounds, with each round testing them on something different. One year in the final round, one competitor was struggling to get her drinks done before the clock ran out. The other finalist had already finished her cocktails and went over to help her competitor get her drinks out. This is one of my favorite examples of how great the camaraderie is in Atlanta.