Talking with Bar Manager Marlon Hall of Le Bar at Bistro AIX
1. Tell us about Bistro Aix
Bistro AIX, pronounced like the letter X, is a distinctly different restaurant, locally owned and operated since 1999 it has been a pioneering influence in dining out in Jacksonville. Named after the French town in Aix-en-Provence, Bistro AIX is a high-energy bistro with a stylish, big-city setting. Designer and partner Terry Schneider has created a sophisticated and alluring space that embodies the lively spirit of a bustling bistro in the south of France. The result is an odyssey of sights, senses and tastes.
By blending old-world influences and modern interpretation, the decor reflects a cosmopolitan take on a town and country theme. The bronze-hued main dining room is accented with large mirrors, French-imported antiques and pottery, an exhibition kitchen and a curved marble and copper “chef’s bar," 1940′s brickwork and a rich assortment of custom-designed furniture and lighting.
The re-invented Le Bar, previously known as the Onyx bar, is stylish and sexy, Bohemian and fun. It includes a glowing backlit white onyx bar, antiqued mirrors and an open-view wine cellar. Le Bar features live music ranging from hip, ever evolving DJs to crooners, Spanish guitarists, and jazz ensembles. In temperate weather, you can enjoy dining in the outside garden patio which is accented with a murmuring fountain and oversized flowerpots. Bistro AIX's private dining rooms provide an ideal venue for corporate meetings and special occasions.
2. What's your role at Bistro AIX?
My role at Bistro AIX is Bar Manager. I oversee the day-to-day operation of our bar program while still remaining a full time bartender. My managerial responsibilities include maintaining a properly stocked inventory, creating and updating our cocktail list, and educating staff on current spirits and techniques. Behind the scenes, I meet with liquor reps and sample spirits in an attempt to stay current. Along with my general manger Ted Hayes, we determine cost and pricing.
3. What does it take to be a great bar manager?
I've learned in my manager infancy it takes a great deal of organization and patience to perform and communicate successfully.
4. Can you tell us about your background?
I have been in the restaurant industry for 19 years, most of which has been behind a bar. I wanted to be an actor and studied theatre in college. I moved to New York and studied at Circle in the Square Theatre School. It was in New York that I really began to realize that bartending was something I could do forever. While the acting jobs came, they were not enough and the starving artist lifestyle was not for me. I left New York and moved to Jacksonville in ’06 where I discovered Bistro AIX and was hired as a server. I worked here for three years waiting to bartend, to no avail. I moved on to another restaurant to refresh my bartending skills and after four years I'm back at Bistro AIX. There had been some major changes with Bistro AIX as far as owners and management. When I was approached with the opportunity to join in my current capacity, I couldn't pass it up.
5. Can you tell us about Le Bar?
Le Bar is the side-car lounge to Bistro AIX. It is different because it offers a more lounge like atmosphere. Smaller, plated food options are available in a less formal sit down setting. We wanted to give our guests another option for continuing their evening. So many times we are posed the question, "where should we go now?" by guests dining with us. Now we have an answer. Come drink, eat, listen to music, and dance in Le Bar.
6. Can you tell us about some of the drinks you would highlight from Bistro AIX / Le Bar?
The cocktail/wine list for Bistro AIX and Le Bar are exactly the same. We strive to highlight small batch spirits. While we have many cocktails to choose from, one of my favorites right now is the Luxardo Cherry Sling. We make our own cherry liqueur in house and it is featured in our take on the classic Singapore Sling. Imagine a bubbly cherry flavored lemonade made with authentic Luxardo cherries from Italy.
Another drink I like is The Pimm's Cup. It is especially appropriate now that we are experiencing warmer weather. Pimm's is a gin based liqueur infused with herbs and botanicals. Think of it not in the sense of gin, but rather as an herbal low alcohol tea. Our Pimm's Cup is mixed with fresh squeezed lemon juice and brown sugar syrup then topped with ginger beer. It's the perfect summer cocktail.
My go to drink is the classic Manhattan. I enjoy it with Redemption Rye, Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth and Jerry Thomas barrel aged bitters! Any time, any season.
7. How do you approach your job at Bistro AIX / Le Bar?
Bistro AIX has long been known as a food destination, and it has every right to be that. Our cocktail program has been a delightful side note. I would like to change this about our culture. I would like it to be considered one of the leaders of cocktail execution and knowledge. Bistro AIX has always been a restaurant destination and Le Bar can now become a cocktail destination as well.
8. Can you tell us about the Wine Maker's Dinners?
The Wine Maker's Dinners are held every quarter. The purpose of the dinner is for guests to learn about a particular wine maker while enjoying wine and food that are specifically paired together. The wine makers are chosen specifically by Ted in coordination with our wine reps. Guests sign up by contacting our catering coordinator Megan Haslip at (904) 389-1949 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
9. What do you like most about being the bar manager at Bistro AIX?
I enjoy the freedom. What I mean by this relates to being able to experiment with flavors and styles without many limitations. The entire staff is some of the most creative lovers of food and drink that I have ever had the pleasure of working with. I enjoy the conversation about flavors and love when we get to collectively try something new. When our executive chef Zeke Mears brought in lemons from a tree in his backyard and asked if I could use them, we made some soon to be ready for spring and summer lemoncello. How cool is that? You can't get any more local and personal than that. Our guests want this experience and I get to bring it to them.
10. What are the biggest challenges in your role?
The biggest challenge is finding enough time to balance both aspects. I bartend full time and also manage. Sometimes I just don't have enough hours to get things done. We don't believe in shortcuts. If we can’t deliver a cocktail with the freshest ingredients we won’t put it out there. So if I don't have enough time to make a new liqueur I'd like to feature in a cocktail, I won't until I can take the time and care to do it right.
11. What's next for the bar side of Bistro AIX /Le Bar?
I’d like to update our ice machine to make Kold-draft cubes. These are larger, denser cubes that provide proper cooling and less dilution. Also stay tuned for a springtime cocktail that will be bottled and carbonated in house, by yours truly.