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First And Foremost, For Five Years, Its The Backdoor

by Kirby Lindsay Laney, posted 5 March 2016

 

Go behind the door at The Backdoor to find out more about Fremont's not-so-secret speakeasy.  Photo by Adrian Laney, Feb '16

Go behind the door at The Backdoor to find out more about Fremont’s not-so-secret speakeasy. Photo by Adrian Laney, Feb ’16

Later this month, specifically March 24th, The Backdoor will host a special tasting with the Glenfiddich Family Of Spirits.  For their $25 ticket, attendees will listen to Sun Ra tunes, enjoy a Monkey Shoulder cocktail, and sample a flight of some of the finest Scotch, presented by Glenfiddich Ambassador Jenny Wren.

This specialty tasting is another in the monthly calendar of exceptional events at Fremont’s hardly-secret, and most elegant speakeasy.  “We’re trying to do something new, something fun, once a month,” explained Jayson Cottam, “it helps people think about The Backdoor.  As a form of marketing, it’s a little more fun.”

“We’re a cool, chill place to sit and have a conversation and a cocktail,” acknowledged Cottam, now General Manager of The Backdoor.  Yet, he explained, “it’s a great birthday, great fundraiser spot; a great spot for a party or an event for two people, or 94.  It’ also a great first date spot – it’s impressive, it’s sexy, and it’s not like it’s a meat market.”

Live Music, And Entertainment

Fremont hardly lacks places to get a good drink.  Cottam knows it.  “There are a couple of great bars around here,” he acknowledged.  The Backdoor doesn’t try to compete.  Instead, owner Peter Glick built something very distinct and unusual, and Cottam has been an influential and creative part of building The Backdoor’s high-quality reputation.  “We are, first and foremost, a cocktail bar,” he explained, where adults gather for drinks, quiet conversation or hearty good times, and delicious, grown-up food.

Another in the calendar of special events at The Backdoor.

Another in the calendar of special events at The Backdoor.

This May, The Backdoor celebrates five years in operation.  Over its first few years, Glick focused on booking out the speakeasy for events, as often as possible.  Today, Cottam has established a balance between buy-out nights, and staying open so the public knows they’ll be able to stop by for a drink and dinner most nights.

For instance, the March 24th Glennfiddich tasting will be open exclusively to ticket holders from 6p – 7p.  After 7p, The Backdoor will open again to everyone, so the public can also enjoy jazz tunes spun by DJ Mr Ballet, and the new line of Glenfiddich cocktails, including those using Monkey Shoulders.

“We do buyouts,” Cottam clarified.  Those who wish to rent the space, for over 50 people, can book a full or half night, but Cottan also can set aside seating areas for parties smaller than that.  For any group, 21+, the Backdoor works well – for celebrating corporate, birthday, wedding, and holiday parties.

In addition, Cottam regularly scheduled entertainment to keeps the place lively, and customers engaged.  For instance, on Wednesdays, The Backdoor hosts live music, rotating the four established and accomplished bands:  Johnny & the Moles, Ricky Gene Funky Trio Project, The Mahatma Gandis, and Good Company.  In addition, he’s adding events that take over the space for a night, like another ticketed evening, taking place in April, with a special circus troupe performance.

Jayson Cottam, General Manager of The Backdoor, mixing drinks behind the bar, once again.  Photo by Adrian Laney, Feb '16

Jayson Cottam, General Manager of The Backdoor, mixing drinks behind the bar, once again. Photo by Adrian Laney, Feb ’16

These events sometimes take over the space, or like January’s party, they allow for a fun, colorful atmosphere that still welcomes customer coming in just to have a drink, or dinner.  In January, The Backdoor hosted a David Bowie tribute party.  “We’d planned it since Halloween,” Cottam explained about inviting attendees to come dressed as their favorite Bowie character.  Originally, Cottam planned the party as a celebration of the singer’s birthday and album release – but they transformed it into a more heartfelt and cathartic wake when Bowie passed away a few days before the party.

Recognized For By The Food

Since the day it opened, Cottam has been at The Backdoor (“I’ve always been the Bar Manager,” he said,) and its reputation for quality cocktails – and bartenders who listen and respond to customer drink requests – is largely his doing.  This may be why, among locals, The Backdoor is a favorite haunt.

On Wednesday, The Backdoor hosts live music with a rotating selection of local bands.

On Wednesday, The Backdoor hosts live music with a rotating selection of local bands.

Still, “every week, every day,” Cottam observed, “I get someone who says, ‘I’ve never been here before.’”  The monthly events, and live music, create new fans, but now, as General Manager, Cottam wants to highlight another strength of our speakeasy.  “I want to increase our food program,” Cottam said, “We are definitely known as a cocktail bar, but we have great food too.”

With Chef Garret Lieber and Kitchen Manager Andrew Coker (formerly of the original Hunger,) “people are starting to recognize us for our food,” Cottam proudly observed.  The team has created a mixed menu with delicious bar bites and satisfying, substantial meals.  They offer everything from crab cakes, fried pickles, blackened broccoli, a local oyster shooter, and lumpia, along with the always popular mug of fries, to much more hearty tacos, mac & cheese, steak sandwich, and pork ribs.

In its first few years, newly arrived chefs working at The Backdoor would be determined to put their own imprint on the menu, and the ever-changing menu left customers continually questioning whether they should drink and eat, or just drink and move on to another Fremont eatery.  “People didn’t know what to expect,” Cottam acknowledged.  Now, with Lieber and Coker, Cottam wants to reassure visitors that they will find something (or many somethings) to love on the menu.

No More Bartenders & Servers

The already legendary cocktail service at The Backdoor is now being matched by its food menu.  Photo by Adrian Laney, Feb '16

The already legendary cocktail service at The Backdoor is now being matched by its food menu. Photo by Adrian Laney, Feb ’16

While Cottam wouldn’t take credit for the revolution of The Backdoor kitchen, he was pleased to brag on the innovative transformation of the staff.  “When we first opened, we had bartenders, and servers,” he explained, “now everyone does every job.”

A widely-acknowledged bar genius, when GM Cottam took to the floor he saw the speakeasy in a different way.  “Working the floor is a lot different than the bar,” he observed.  “At the bar, you are always on-stage,” he said, “people are looking at you, even when you are busy, or having a bad day.  It’s fun, sometimes…   Working the floor, you can cover more ground, and develop a good relationship; see more faces.  Those can also be really fun.”

Cottam couldn’t be pinned down on which he prefers, but he has encouraged his staff to try both.  “We have great people,” he praised, talking of staff members Dana, Jacob, Jillian, Gavin and Cole, “They all hustle, and are proud of what they do.”

The Backdoor provides adult with an elegant place to gather, and enjoy being out.  Photo by Adrian Laney, Feb '16

The Backdoor provides adult with an elegant place to gather, and enjoy being out. Photo by Adrian Laney, Feb ’16

“Having everyone do everything, we work together better,” Cottam said, “working together we learn.  We can pick up stuff from one another.”  More than anything, Cottam has been pleased to hear from customers about how the whole staff listens, and finds out what customers want – to drink or eat – and responds to those requests as best they can.

‘A Comfortable Feel’

“Sometimes it feels like a long-time,” admitted Cottam, about spending nearly five years in the nearly-hidden enclave of The Backdoor.  Still, he is very pleased with the larger-than-life legacy The Backdoor has in the Center of the Universe, “It has a comfortable feel to me.”

Cottam plans to keep working at, and refining, The Backdoor, and keeping it open as an elegant option for adults who want a place to gather, to celebrate or just to find a really great drink among friends.

 

 


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©2016 Kirby Laney.  This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws.  Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.

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