In Vino Veritas

Bartender Beat: Gino at Niel's Bahr

He'll make you a Palpatini cocktail, but this geek who drinks is more of a Scotch man.

By Alice Alsup May 30, 2014

Who’s that tending bar at Neil’s Bahr? It’s Gino, head bartender (and also an investor) at the new EaDo hot spot for geeks who drink.

Niel's Bahr
2006 Walker St.

Picture a wall of comic book series, the entire collection of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction periodicals, food on the deck cooked by Pablo, a former chef at Tony’s (“that’s my soufflé recipe they use,” he insists), and that's Niel's Bahr—a punny play on words that references Niels Bohr, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist. Bohr, who died in 1962, also has asteriods (3948 Bohr) and chemical elements (Bohrium, atomic number 107) named after him in addition to geeky cocktail bars.

Gino makes cocktails that taste like a gummi worm, a warhead, or just a good old manhattan. So I sat down at Gino’s well for an incredibly reasonable happy hour ($3 until 7 p.m., Skyy Vodka as their well vodka) and an interview. 

So tell me, what’s good here?
The craft brews on tap; we’ve got a healthy variety of Scotches. We’ve got some craft cocktails: Princess Daisy, Princess Peach, the Palpatini—vodka, blue curacao, a little lime juice, sprite or soda to top, and dribbles of crème de cassis. There’s the Pac Man, and if you want the Ms. Pac Man, she gets topped with Sprite instead of soda and a cherry. (Cue a digressive discussion of gender roles in the gaming and comic book universes.)

What’s your background?
I got my PhD in gender studies from Louisiana [State University]. Bartending weaved through my story. It’s what I did to pay my way through graduate school. I came back to bartending after retiring from teaching.

What’s your philosophy on drinking?
It’s less about drinking than about drinking establishments. That people drink creates the need for drinking establishments, where they can journey to drink. When you share a drink with your neighbor, those things that tend to be marked as what separate become the tendencies [that] bring us together. Diversity can become a point of connection. At a club, you’re there to show yourself off or to be seen. What we are trying to create is an extension of a living room.

What was the most intellectual argument you’ve witnessed at Neil’s?
Debates break out over the integrity of different universes, the new Star Trek film’s parallel universe for instance.

What is your favorite drink?
I like to make a Manhattan. (Cue the brainstorming about potential recipes for a Doctor Manhattan.) I’m a scotch drinker myself—Glenlivet 18. 

Comic book series of choice?
The Thor series.

Best places to drink on your off days?
I love to drink wine with my family in my home. Bad News Bar, and Poison Girl—it feels like Chicago to me there, where I lived for eight years and did my master's degree. Tony Mandola’s for a good whiskey.

What’s the best thing about Neil’s Bahr?
It’s not pretentious, it just laid out like what it is. This place lends itself to experience. The games are good if you’re a game player. (Niel's has video consoles, Cards Against Humanity, and one game I’ve never seen elsewhere called Sex on the Brain.) There’s our foosball coffee table. People tend to have conversations.

When is it time to cut someone off?
Everyone has a different tell. If a guy drinks a lot really fast, it’s time to slow them down. The time to cut someone off is before they get there. If you see that, it’s time to stop them.

Gino: a superhero in his own right.

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