Molly Wellmann has been keeping a secret.
In December, Nightclub & Bar, the bar world's major trade organization based in Las Vegas, told Wellmann, owner of Japp's and Myrtle's Punch House, that she was nominated for their Best Bartender/Owner of the Year award. A week ago, she found out that she was picked unanimously for this prestigious award, making her the first winner in Cincinnati, or even outside of New York, San Francisco or Las Vegas.
We sat down to discuss the award, how she got there, and what drink is on her mind right now as she celebrates her win.
Bits & Bites: How did you get involved with Nightclub & Bar?
Molly Wellmann: A few months ago, someone from Nightclub & Bar asked if I could present at their national show in Las Vegas. At the time, I had just bought out my partners and was starting a business on my own, so I didn't know if I had the time. Later, they sent David Klemt, a writer for their newsletter, to talk to me about evolving my business. He followed up later, asking me if I still bartend — of course I do, every Friday and most Saturdays and at events around the city — and I found out last week that I'd won!
B&B: What separates you from other bar owners?
MW: I was one of the first people in Cincinnati to open a craft cocktail bar. I'm a seventh generation Cincinnatian, so there’s no pretension — you’re not allowed to be pretentious on the West Side! My family and friends wouldn’t let me be that way. I won’t let my bartenders be pretentious, either. I also do things my way: I didn’t have other bars to be an example, so I had to figure it out on my own. I did what I thought was the right way to do it. I’m not doing it the way other people are doing it in other cities. I go with my gut and do it the way I want do it.
I also hire people who have never bartended before. I won’t hire anyone who’s been to bartending school, because I'd have to retrain them. Instead, I’ll hire people with amazing personality and a passion for wanting to learn this business. Many of [the bartenders I've hired] have opened their own successful businesses, and I’m proud of them.
B&B: Care to name a few names?
MW: John Weiner and Stuart McKenzie run Northside Yacht Club. Tom Stephen, who worked for me at Neon's, is one of the partners at Liberty's Bar & Bottle. And of course, Jacob Trevino of Overlook Lodge, Tokyo Kitty and Video Archive. It was so funny: The day I was going to ask him to manage Myrtle’s was the day he told her he was going to open his own bar! There are others as well. They understand their customer and their community and are really freakin' cool.
B&B: What makes Cincinnati a great place to be a bar owner?
MW: I cannot express to you how excited I am for Cincinnati and the recognition it will get for this award. That’s what I’m mostly excited about. People think exciting things only happen on the coasts, but cool things happen in Cincinnati. The opportunities are endless. We have nice and supportive people and a supportive community. Everyone supports one another. You don’t find it anywhere else.
In other cities, people are competitive and cutthroat. We aren't here. For example, Ronda Breeden from Arnold's just released a gin, which I want to carry at my bar to support other bar owners. People ask me all the time: Are you worried about these other bars opening up around your bars? Hell no. I am always excited when other bars open up. I look at it not as competition, but as raising the community up and getting more people to come to the area. I love other businesses. I have opened [bars] in places that don’t have businesses to attract other businesses. That’s how you build a community. I will do everything and anything to help uplift other businesses in the city. I send people to Longfellow, Liberty’s and The Pony all the time. I send people all over the city. I love telling people about places that are in walking distance that they should check out.
In the past 10 years, I’m so excited to see so many amazing, awesome bartenders, cocktail bars, cocktail programs changing to really pay attention to the bar. I think it’s neat and Cincinnati is so much better for it.
B&B: What are you drinking right now to celebrate?
MW: I love old cocktails, from the 1930s and older. I've been researching a lot of cocktails, particularly bourbon cocktails because people are requesting them. The Lion's Tail is one I have been making and it's really simple.
Below, Wellmann shares the recipe for The Lion's Tail. Cheers!
The Lion's Tail
2 oz bourbon (your favorite)
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz triple sec (Molly makes her own at Japp’s; try Cointreau or Patron Citronage)
2 bar spoons of allspice dram
2-3 dashes of Angostura bitters
Shake with ice and serve in a coupe glass.