What’s the biggest mistake people make when fixing drinks?

Plus more quirky questions for H. Harper Station’s Jerry Slater
Photo by Pableaux Johnson
Photo by Pableaux Johnson

13 Questions is a weekly series where we ask chefs 13 questions to get to know them outside of the kitchen. Jerry Slater is the owner of H. Harper Station.

When you aren’t bartending, what do you do for fun?
I like to cook as much as I like to make drinks. My wife and I just bought a house [in Bostwick] in September, so we’ve been nesting with our La Creuset, making roasts and stews.

What’s your fast food guilty pleasure?
I’m kind of a French fry freak. It doesn’t matter which kind—Wendy’s, fancy chef fries—I won’t let anyone not finish their plate of fries.

What’s your hangover cure?
Hair of the dog: a bloody mary with a side of beer. The beer eases the medicine down. My favorite beer is Bohemia, a Mexican pilsner.

If you weren’t in the restaurant industry, what would you be doing?
I was on the path to try to be a college professor [in English literature] at one point, but I liked the restaurant business more than dealing with academics. I’m definitely a fan of Southern literature. I once bribed my professor with a bottle of whiskey to extend my Faulkner paper.

What’s the last TV show you bingewatched?
The Blacklist 

What’s one bar trend you’re sick of?
This is sacrilege in Atlanta, but I’m not the biggest tiki drink fan. I have more fun making them than ordering them.

What’s the best-kept secret of Reynoldstown?
The people there. Even though it’s gentrifying a little, it’s still very diverse. I used to just walk around the neighborhood a lot, and people say hello; it still feels like a small community.

What’s the last great book you read?
2666 by Roberto Bolaño. Well, it was great until you got to the fourth section with the murders.

You worked a lot of Kentucky Derbys in Louisville. Any crazy stories?
Just in general working the Kentucky Derby is crazy. I was at a hotel called the Seelbach, which is like ground zero for all the sponsors and the people who can afford it. I got to meet Tony Bennett. One night, he ordered a bottle of wine to his room, and me and the bartender were fighting for who got to take it up, so we took it up together. He opened the door and had the coolest demeanor and said he really liked the jazz music we played in the Oak Room, which was great because I had a fight with hotel management about playing jazz, not classical, because it was dated.

Where was the last place you traveled to?
We went to New Orleans three times in the past two years: once for my honeymoon, back again for the Southern Foodways Alliance, and once on a whim with some friends for the weekend. It’s sort of a laissez-faire attitude, like when they ask “Do you want an old-fashioned to go?” and it’s something you never thought about before, but hell yeah, I will!

What was the best piece of advice you got working under Charlie Trotter in Chicago?
He just had this occasional Yoda thing. One time, I spilled ice, so I got a broom and dust pan, and he said, “No, Jerry, you need to do this quiet like a poet.” I don’t know what that means, but he and I scooped up all the ice with our hands together. He taught me perfection is, if not achievable, at least close to attainable.

You teach a lot of mixology classes. What’s the biggest mistake most people make when fixing drinks?
People are scared of bitters. People think a dash is out of an eyedropper, but a dash is a shake into a glass. I drink a lot of old-fashioneds at home, so don’t be afraid of the bitters.

What was your first drink ever?
I was working construction during high school summer months, and my mom went out of town with my sisters, so it was just my dad and I. He had a bet with his boss that I couldn’t drink more than three Old Styles, but his boss said six. I got to five before I went blotto. For 14 [years-old], that wasn’t bad.