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Editor's Note: This story is unlocked for everyone to read courtesy of the CRVA, our partner in nourishing culinary exploration for residents and visitors of the Queen City.

May 14, 2024

Behind the Stick: Matt Marenna – Elizabeth Parlour Room at Hooligans FC

Self-described “lifer” enjoys the craft and the people he meets doing it

Matt Marenna / Elizabeth Parlour Room at Hooligans FC. TM Petaccia/UP

by TM Petaccia

“Behind the stick” originally comes from taphouses, as in pulling the draft beer taps, but has been adapted over the years as an industry-wide term for who is working the bar. This series profiles working bartenders in the Charlotte area to learn a bit more about them and what you can expect when they are behind the stick.

This week, we spoke with Matt Marenna of Elizabeth Parlour Room at Hooligans FC. His official title is Operating Partner, but he can typically be found at the bar doing all the things bartenders do. In addition, he runs his own cocktail consulting business, Bearded Bar Consulting. “I really try to put as much effort into pouring into people as I do pouring beer or cocktails because I really enjoy connecting,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of changes to our industry post COVID, and for various reasons, many people, experienced people, left. What is left minus the incoming “new guys” are a really dedicated group of lifers who love their craft and enjoy people and I am one of them.”

Where are you from originally?
I was born in Washington DC, raised up initially in Northern Virginia and when my Dad got out of the military, we settled just north of Baltimore in Maryland. I grew up in a growing county, just like Mecklenburg County, with my five siblings and still have most of my immediate family living up there. I was the lone one who felt the calling of life outside of Maryland and specifically, the South.

What got you into bartending?
A desperate need for money while I was attending school at UNCC and an opportunity that fell into my lap. I never went looking for it. In fact, I only intended to work for one night. It turned into a calling that got in my veins. I probably wouldn’t be in it still if I didn’t find a point of passion. I find people who work in this industry just for the money don’t last. It’s hard work and it can turn you into a jaded burnout if money is the only thing that drives you. If you have something that drives you and fulfills you, you’ll never hit empty.

What was your first restaurant/bar job?
I worked at Tilt on Trade. I got invited to deal cards for a casino night there and the bar ended up getting slammed after the event ended. They had just fired their barback and said they’d double my pay and give me a bartab if I stayed for a while to run glassware, pull trash, and restock beer. So I stayed. Ended up staying and moving up over the next few years. It was a great place to cut my teeth and grow, especially in the early growth years of modern Charlotte nightlife. It also was the place that sparked a revolution in my head, that led to my self-described “point of passion” for the business. After a special event where I barbacked for the lead mixologist for Maker’s Mark, I saw the industry in a different light and saw bartending and the industry didn’t have to be a placeholder or a dead end job. It could be a career.

How would you describe your bartending style?
I lead with my personality and that is pretty loose, jovial, and outgoing. I’m here to set the table for the visit and get people out of their day, the drinks are just what greases the rails. There are way more talented and creative bartenders in the world than myself. So I work harder at it so that when the drink hits the napkin, it is exactly the profile that person wanted, and is another point of service along with my attention, the ambiance, and my conversation. Ideally, customers enjoy themselves to the point, they forget about time and only realize when they leave how relaxed and happy they are and that they really had a good time.

What spirit are you currently into right now?
Several. Tequila is so popular right now, it’s hard not to at least explore different cocktails with it But whiskey is always my favorite. I collect and my wife tells me I have a problem and she’s probably right. Also, I have quietly been on an aged rum kick. They don’t get enough love. They are very versatile spirits. Often unavailable, but can be very good in a cocktail, a split base, or just on a cube.

Do you have a particular approach or philosophy when creating a new cocktail?
My approach to cocktails is pretty straightforward. The classics are generally less than six ingredients; very simple and yet we talk about them 100-150 years later. I like clean, simple flavors, and then I find a way to build depth in my cocktails. Never technique for the sake of adding a cool element, but always with an eye toward making the cocktail better. That said, if it looks good and smells amazing, it will probably taste good too. I always keep that in mind.

What Charlotte-area bars do you like to go to when you’re not on the clock?
After a good meal I like to go to The Vintage in South End for a cigar and a drink. The team there is creative and the ambiance is great. The Cellar at Duckworths is consistently excellent and Ron Oleksa is running a great program throughout that company. If I am just grabbing a beer or hanging with friends I like Nelson’s in South End, Corner Pub in Uptown, Seoul Food, or OMB’s beer garden. All of these places are no frills where I can grab a quiet beer and a pour.

What’s your favorite cocktail?
A Boulevardier. Delicious, refreshing, classic, simple. Great for after dinner or all on its own.

Recipe for the home bartender
Simple and tasty. One of my favorites.

Mezcal Dacquiri
1½ oz Aged Rum
½ oz Mezcal
1 oz fresh lime juice
½ oz simple syrup

Add all ingredients to a mixing tin and shake over ice 5-10 seconds. Strain into either a coupe glass or over crushed ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with a lime spiral.


Check out our other Behind the Stick bartender profiles.

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