Welcome to a Cocktail Week 2014 edition of The Barkeepers, a regular feature in which Eater roams the city to meet the fine ladies and gentlemen that work behind the bar at some of LA's hottest cocktail parlors.
ACME bar group's Dylan Snyder always knew he wanted to make a difference, he just wasn't sure how. The Baltimore native fell hard for L.A.'s cocktail and restaurant scene after just one visit, and moved to the West Coast shortly after to see how he could help it grow.
Now more than five years deep into a bar career that has spanned from The Varnish to The Parish, from Beelman's to King Eddy's, Snyder has settled in as overall beverage director for all of ACME's blooming properties, including Sixth Street Tavern, Laurel Tavern, Spring Street Bar and Library Bar, among others. But the focus hasn't changed: Snyder is set on helping to make downtown the best drinking and dining destination in the country, one cocktail at a time.
How did you get started as a bartender? Growing up in Baltimore, I didn’t really have a love for drinks. I drank Budweiser, shots of Jameson, that was about it. I came out to LA on a vacation about seven years ago and was totally blown away.,and I thought ‘this is what I want to do’. I want to be somebody in the scene that’s actually progressing things.
Eventually I met Max and Eric from The Varnish, and one day they said they needed a host two nights a week, and I said of course! I get free cocktails?! I’m in. So I did that for two years, and they really whipped me into shape, honestly. Being from Baltimore, I didn’t know shit about things like service, and they gave me the training on how to drop a glass, how to approach a table, all of the service elements that they hold you to there.
And now you’re with ACME. [After stints at The Parish and Bar Amá] I went over to Sixth Street Tavern because I saw it as this canvas where I could go and do something cool. It was the beginning of the summer, and downtown, the business is impossible. You’re always slower in the summer. And we ended up doing 20% more business, which is impossible. Honestly, I didn’t really do anything. I just turned the music up louder, the lights down lower and barely changed the cocktail list. I just encouraged the staff to have more fun while they’re working. You want to dance? Dance. You want to take Instagram photos of you pouring shots? Please. I want you to do that.
Now, I’m becoming the beverage director for all of ACME, which means I’ll be overseeing things from back over at Beelman’s, working on King Eddy’s, our dive bar. It should be really fun. If you want my life philosophy, that’s it: have fun. You can’t walk into a bar where the bartender is smiling and dancing and taking orders, and think that place sucks.
It sounds like you’re going to be wearing a lot of different hats. I mean, honestly it’s new to me. And it’s new to the company. I don’t even really know what I’m doing sometimes. I know the gist, and I know the goal is to increase sales. That’s my focus, but how we get there is a little different every day.
Is there a particular way you approach your drinks? As a bartender, you don’t just make drinks, you feel out a situation, you meet a person and try to evaluate what they want out of an experience. First and foremost, I’m a beer guy. Being a homebrewer, it’s my passion because I get all that goes into it. All that babysitting. I respect that more than cocktail making, no offense to those people. But you set a ball in motion and you’re not going to know what it tastes like for a week. If you make a cocktail and it sucks, it only took you a couple of minutes.
As far as my approach to bars, it’s all circumstantial. Sixth Street Tavern, we’re catty-corner to The Standard, so we have a menu to suit that crowd. Spring Street bar is approachable, really simple drinks. Beelman’s is more esoteric, because there’s room to be that. We do cocktails on draft there. King Eddy’s, I would never put a cocktail menu in there. I mean, it’s a dive bar. I want to start selling 40’s there.
How is the revamp at King Eddy’s being received? I think people are still pissed that we don’t open at 6 a.m. anymore, myself kind of included. I’d be that guy waiting out front at 5:30 in the morning for them to unlock the door. That being said, King Eddy’s is still my favorite of all ACME’s bar. I mean, it’s where you end your night. I can bounce around downtown, go to the nicest dinner of my life, I still want to end my night at King Eddy. I know that all the restaurant industry people who work around here are going to be there. I’ve never walked into King Eddy and not known somebody. That feels like family.
What sort of beer do you gravitate towards these days? Any L.A. place that brews good beer, that’s my heart. Highland Park Brewery, Angel City, Golden Road. I get asked a lot what defines the L.A. beer scene, and I really like that there isn’t one thing that defines it. In San Diego, it’s all big double IPAs, super hop bombs. Here in L.A., it’s still finding itself. I like that, and I kind of hope that it never gets to that one thing that defines us.
What do you love the most about downtown’s bar scene? It reminds me of home in a weird way. It’s pretty and it’s dirty, but there’s these amazing diamonds in the rough. I remember the first time I came to The Varnish, and my mind was blown. It wasn’t a great neighborhood, but inside it’s dark and everyone’s well-dressed and sexy, and the drinks are amazing. The downtown bar community really loves itself, in a very approachable way.
I feel like Hollywood and other parts of L.A. are very elitist and insular, and make you feel like you’re not cool enough to be there. In downtown, we want everybody. We don’t give a shit. We want you here, drinking and having fun. I want to go into every bar in downtown and hug the bartenders. I love them.
It sounds like you’re maybe getting slowly away from the stick. What’s going to happen to you in five years? I’ll probably get really drunk one night and fuck everything up [laughs]. I don’t know. Five years from now, I want to own my own bar, and sit down to read some article that talks about how great downtown now is compared to downtown a decade ago, and know that I had something to do with it. I don’t need my name, I don’t care about the popularity. Years from now, I want people to know that at this moment in downtown L.A., it was fucking magical. The bars, the restaurants, the whole vibe became something bigger than itself. And to know that I was here.