An article I wrote for the October issue of Chilled Magazine.
After recovering from his lung transplant in 2007, Kevin O’Brien had no intention of returning to bartending. It wasn’t that living with cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening disease that causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs and digestive tract, held him down, he was just focused on succeeding in radio broadcasting. After all, he had his BA in Mass Communications and back then, bartending was just a side job.
It wasn’t until 2010 when O’Brien got back behind the bar, after his cousin, a manager at Kodiak’s Restaurant and Bar in Farmingdale, New York was in need of an experienced bartender.
“He got me a spot there and I realized how little I knew and began learning more about mixology, craft beer, and hospitality,” O’Brien said. “After a year at Kodiak’s I decided to stop working in radio and commit to learning more about the bar business.”
According to O’Brien, living with cystic fibrosis makes what he wants to do all the more special. Before his surgery in 2007, he would go to work as a bartender with his oxygen tank even when his lung function was plummeting below 10%.
“I’ve always been challenged by cystic fibrosis, so to me it’s just life, whereas if someone hears what I’ve gone through, they’re amazed by it,” O’Brien said, adding that having a positive outlook and being surrounded by people who support him personally and professionally is a great help.
Cystic fibrosis doesn’t affect O’Brien’s job to the point where he needs special treatment, but he said he has to be careful to avoid people who are sick as he’s at a greater risk for infection due to his depleted immune system.
“It’s nothing I really think about though,” he said of being extra careful out in public. “I go to work like everyone else and when I get behind the bar I’m of the opinion that there’s nothing anybody can do that I can’t do better.”
To O’Brien the most satisfying part of bartending is creating a drink and having the guest absolutely love it.
“It’s the mixology equivalent of scoring a touchdown or hitting a homerun,” he said.
One day O’Brien would like to open his own bar. He envisions it as a sports themed craft beer bar featuring “old-school ball players from the mid to early 20th century.” He’d have a very educated staff along with a widespread whiskey collection on display.
“I think owning a successful bar is the ultimate goal in this industry and when I do something I want to reach the top,” O’Brien said. “The key word is ‘success’ because anyone can open a bar, but it’s hard to maintain success.”
With his positive and hard-working mindset, O’Brien knows he can reach his goal.
“I think about my donor family every day and I owe it to them that I’m here, so that’s why I will accept nothing short of success and excellence in all that I do.”
O’Brien currently bartends at The Nutty Irishman pub in Bayshore, New York and uses his good fortune of health to speak and volunteer for Long Island’s Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. At their Long Island’s Finest event last fall, O’Brien shook up his own specialty cocktail called The Red Carpet Martini. To get involved, visit www.cff.org/chapters/longisland.
Some of O’Brien’s favorite original recipes:
1. Red Carpet Martini (created for the CF Foundation LI Fines event):
1/2 oz Pinnacle Cherry Vodka
1 1/2 oz Pinnacle Chocolate Whipped Vodka
small squeeze of chocolate syrup
1/2 oz grenadine
**Pinnacle donated vodka for the event, but any brand of flavored vodka works.
Shake and strain ingredients into martini glass
Chocolate syrup swirl inside of martini glass
Speared chocolate covered cherries for garnish (dip cherries in choc syrup and spear)
2. Southern Sizzle and Swizzle
1 1/2 oz Red Licorice Pinnacle Vodka
1/2 oz Jim Beam Red Stag
1/2 oz Southern Comfort
1 oz cranberry juice
Shake and strain ingredients into martini glass or drink on the rocks
Garnish with a red twizzler that has both ends cut off
Drink through twizzler!
1 1/2 oz Pinnacle Tropical Fruit Vodka
1/2 oz Cointreau
1/4 oz lime juice
1/4 oz lemon juice
1 oz sour mix
Fill with pineapple juice
Build over ice and shake
Garnish and lime and cherry