The colorful, fast-paced documentary "Hey Bartender" celebrates the renaissance of the craft cocktail and the men and women who mix them with rock star aplomb. To do so, writer-director Douglas Tirola ("Making the Boys") divertingly goes "behind the stick" (yep, that's barkeep lingo) at some of Manhattan's busiest watering holes, most notably West Village sensation Employees Only.
Yet for all his attention to the exactitude of creating righteous cocktails, Tirola never quite nails a specific structure, focus or theme. As a result, the film takes on a kind of kaleidoscopic quality, hopping from bar to bar, bartender to bartender, drink to drink (stopping just short of beverage porn), until splashing down at Tales of the Cocktail, New Orleans' kicky annual cocktail and culinary festival. (In a more traditionally wrought doc, all roads would have specifically led here.)
Still, the film's nominal leads, young Turk and ex-Marine Steve Schneider of Employees Only, and Steve "Carpi" Carpentieri, the weary, longtime owner of Westport, Conn.'s, neighborhood staple Dunville's, provide a vivid contrast in what's hot and what's not in the current cocktail game.
Such other Manhattan mixology VIPs as Dushan Zaric (the pioneering co-owner of Employees Only), Julie Reiner, Jim Meehan, Audrey Saunders, former Rainbow Room master pourer Dale DeGroff (aka "King Cocktail"), plus various scene observers and writers, are also enjoyably featured.