Gary Regan

See more General

On November 15th, 2019, the world lost one of the great bartenders. Gary was a long-distance mentor of mine, and then he became an idol of mine, then a colleague, and finally a friend.

When we lose someone, I think it’s nice to share some fun stories about them. Gary was a true bartender, and I’m a bartender, and so the Gary story I cherish the most is very… bartender-y. It’s not a story about us drinking together, and it’s not a story about us talking about cocktails together. This is a story about two bartenders doing what bartenders do best: making fun of each other.

Here’s to Gary. I hope you enjoy this.


I got into cocktails mainly by reading Paul Harrington’s Alchemist column on the Hotwired website in the late 1990s and early 2000s. His book, Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century was my bible when I started learning about cocktails and moving my way up from dive bars, to better bars, and eventually to cocktail bars. It was the book that taught me everything I knew… until 2003.

When Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology came out, I must have read that thing like five times. It was, and I believe still is, the most comprehensive manual on bartending ever written.

I lived by that book. All the stuff on service. The cocktail family stuff. All of the recipes were even so much better than anyone else’s. Like, when you’re first learning about this stuff and want to know how to make, I don’t know, like a White Lady or something, you look at so many recipes. And time after time, Gary’s recipes were just better; more balanced, and they all kind of made more sense, if that… makes sense.

Inspired by the likes of Harrington and Regan, I started this blog in 2004 in the hope of repaying the world for everything that those two had taught me by contributing to it. Two years later, I had – much to my amazement – caught the attention of Gary Regan and he reached out and asked me to contribute some thoughts for this article, which was the very first piece of national press I’d ever received.

I was beside myself to be mentioned by one of my great bartending heroes, I can’t even tell you what it felt like, but it was awesome. Over the next few years, he and I conversed over email from time to time, chatted over Twitter, and he mentioned me a few more times in various articles for Wine Enthusiast and the SF Examiner.

Now, I know that a bartender meets a ton of people, especially someone of his caliber. So I never took it personally that he almost never recognized me when I’d see him sporadically at events or whatnot. I first introduced myself to him at Tales in maybe… 2008? Whenever it was, I walked up to him and said “Hi Gary, my name is Jeffrey Morgenthaler. I’m a bartender from Eugene, Oregon. We’ve spoken over email a few times and you’ve written about me once or twice.” And then I would go on to give the same spiel to him about once a year, every time I saw him at some industry event.

In 2011, Gary awarded me with a Gazzer, which was this fun little award he was doing in conjunction with Pernod-Ricard. I didn’t know what I’d done to deserve such a treat, but over email he told me it was an Innovation Award for inventing barrel aged cocktails. He sent me my Gary Regan bobblehead and I displayed it in my home office with pride.

Then, in 2013, he emailed me to inform me I was the recipient of another Gazzer award. “What did I do this time?” I asked him. He told me it was an Innovation Award for inventing barrel aged cocktails. I said “It must be a great innovation if I’m getting awarded for it twice!” He told me he’d forgotten that he’d already awarded me for that particular trend and sent me my Gary Regan bobblehead which I displayed in my home office with pride – right next to the first one he’d sent me.

In 2015, Campari Germany and the BCB invited me to Berlin to present on the Negroni with Gary. For the first time I was on a stage with one of my bartending idols, as a peer. I don’t know if I can adequately convey the feeling that a total nerd from the little burg of Eugene, Oregon (now living in Portland) got from that. But you get it.

I mentioned in one of the group emails leading up to the talk that it was going to be great to see Gary again, and sent along a photo of myself as a reminder, while telling everyone on the email chain that Gary never seemed to remember who I was. To which he replied with something along the lines of “Maybe I’d remember you if you were a more memorable person, you little fucker.”

When I arrived at my hotel in Berlin, Gary was outside waiting for a taxi. I walked right up to him with an outstretched hand and said “Hi Gary, my name is Jeffrey Morgenthaler. I’m a bartender from Portland, Oregon. I don’t know if you remember me but we’ve spoken over email a few hundred times and you’ve written about me a dozen times. I also have two Gazzers and you and I are presenting tomorrow about the Negroni”

To which he replied with something along the lines of “Maybe I’d remember you if you were a more memorable person, you little fucker.”

Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Jurgen Deibel, Gary "Gaz" Regan, and Leo Robitschek

So that entire week, every single time I saw him – and we were working really closely together on that talk and on another project – I would walk right up to him and say, “Hi Gary, my name is Jeffrey Morgenthaler. I’m a bartender from Portland, Oregon. I don’t know if you remember me but we’ve spoken over email a few hundred times and you’ve written about me a dozen times. I also have two Gazzers and you and I are presenting tomorrow about the Negroni”

Every. Single. Time. Even if he’d only been gone for five minutes to the bathroom, I would greet him with that spiel. And every time it was greeted with something along the lines of “Maybe I’d remember you if you were a more memorable person, you little fucker.”

As you can probably tell, despite my love of shit-talking, I’m a total fanboy. And when I travel somewhere and I know that the author of one of the many, many books I hold in my collection will be there, I always bring it with me to get them to sign it. I have books signed by all the greats: Degroff, Cecchini, Wondrich, Harrington (that one I bought a signed copy online, I still haven’t met him in person) etc.

At the end of our week together I told Gary about this and produced my tattered, dog-eared copy of The Joy of Mixology for him to sign. I told him, sincerely, how much that book meant to me coming up in the business and how much of an honor it was to be working with him, despite my constant harassment of him that week. He graciously autographed my book and handed it back to me. I didn’t even look at the inscription – I wanted to wait until I got home.

And when I got back to Portland and opened up the book in my home office to display it proudly where it still stands to this day, I finally read what he’d written to me in Berlin:

To Jeffrey –

Whoever the fuck you are.

I love you, man.

Gaz Regan

I love you too, Gary. Wherever the fuck you are.

39 Replies to “Gary Regan”

  • Nick Crutchfield says:

    God damnit, my friend. You have a way with word and emotions. You capture them well. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    Sincerely,
    A total fanboy.

  • Nick Crutchfield says:

    You know I will. So many frigging emotions today. A toast to one of our Gods!

  • Torrence Swain says:

    It is is this type of impact I want to leave with this world. Thank you Jeffrey for sharing. That’s an amazing story. Legends create legends.

  • dietsch says:

    This is fantastic, Jeff. You un-noteworthy fucker.

  • Lynnette says:

    Hahahaha. Thank you for this. This is the tribute needed. Thanks for making laugh and cry.

  • Steph Ridgway says:

    If anybody could distill the essence of Gaz into a written piece, it’s you. Thanks for making me laugh and for what it’s worth,I remember meeting you…barely.

  • Prairie Rose says:

    This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing. A Negroni (or two) will be raised tonight in his honor.

  • Stephen Paulson says:

    Great story Jeffrey. Can’t wait to get back to Portland soon to grab a drink from you at the bar.

    Cheers,
    Stephen

  • JOHN GAKURU says:

    Ooof!! Thanks Jeff. You’ve captured, perfectly, the sentiment of so many stories I too share with Gaz. I’m so happy that you’re the writer you are. Thanks for getting the words out. Cos I’m struggling….

  • jo-Jo Valenzuela says:

    Hi Jeffrey:

    My name is Jo-Jo Valenzuela, you won’t remember me even if we’ve met each other a dozen times. I’m your little fucker (pretend I’m Doc Holiday in Tombstone saying those words.)
    This is the best, Gaz is my idol!

  • Seiter says:

    Greatly written duder. Fingered Negronis tonight like it’s the fuckin prom.

    Cheers,
    Seiter

    PS Someone will write a farewell about you like this. No doubt. I just hope it’s a while before I read it … or that I never will.

  • Nice one Jeffrey. Both you and Gary have inspired thw whole planet. We will miss him. Keep on.

  • Nicola Riske says:

    Thank you, Jeff. Crying. This is a beautiful story – thanks for sharing.

  • Stephen Kurpinsky says:

    Thank you for sharing this story my friend. A legendary tribute to an absolute legend. Raising my Negroni to all of us who hope to inspire; and to be memorable, for our guests, and most importantly for each other.

  • Maggie Meskey says:

    this is the best thing i’ve read all year.
    signed,
    a total fangirl from the mxmo days

  • Jesse Peterson says:

    Reading through this incredible memory of yours marks a great reminder to not take ourselves too seriously. With a heavy heart, cheers to Gaz! Thank you for sharing this, fanboy. Major hugs and love- a big time fan girl.

  • Jonny Raglin says:

    Ahh man. You brought the tears out buddy. Thank you. He was and always will be my idol in this biz. You painted a brilliant picture of him.

  • Ryan Wainwright says:

    He was and is the best of us all. A true inspiration in the art of banter and brilliance. Thanks for the memories man.

  • Mark Christenson says:

    That’s a great story–totally made me laugh (the recurring exchange between you two) but was also touching.

    Peace…

  • Very funny and good story man. I was actually spectator at that negroni gig @ BCB Berlin with a good friend and colleague of mine. We could’nt hear a word you guys were saying, because of the poor sound system and many, many people in the small room. The 2 of you dealt with the situation like true bartenders! Joking amongst each other and creating a bar atmosphere right away. It was pure class! Actually one of the best seminars we’ve seen while only catching 20% of the actual content 🙂

  • As an addendum to the article, the other project I mentioned in the article that Gary and I were working on also included Leo Robitschek and Jürgen Deibel. It was a project sponsored by Campari that was inspired by the Barrel-Aged Negroni and would eventually become the Cask Tales project. Very fun to work with such amazing talent.

    Gary was approached by a new distillery for a gin project and asked who he would like to work with; he recommended me and Leo again, and that project is now the Tod and Vixen gin by the Vale Fox Distillery. If you get a chance to taste our work I think you’ll really enjoy it. It was an honor to get to work with Gary on these projects and I hope they live on for a long, long time. JM

  • Steven Olson says:

    I’m sorry. Who wrote this? Too bad…if only he were a more memorable little fuck!
    Thanks for sharing Jeffrey.
    Missing my brother Gary, and sending you big love.

  • Jesse Ross says:

    This is great Jeff
    Thanks for this.

  • Arthur says:

    This is beautiful. Oddly enough I had both of your books in Sea Island and never worked up the courage to ask you to sign them because I was too embarrassed of being a fanboy.

  • Chris Elford says:

    I didnt get into cocktails until 2009, but I have probably told you before that it was through your blog. You paid it forward. That’s fucking awesome. And I can’t wait to write something poignant about you when you die!

  • Charles Munat says:

    Thanks for making me cry in public.

    Gaz was quite the rascal, but I am surprised at how sad I feel at his passing. I’ve known a lot of bartenders, but gaz is probably the one I felt closest to. I suspect that’s how he made most people feel: he was simply authentic.

    This is going to be a hard week or two.

    Good story. Iconic, really. Thanks, Jeffrey.

  • John Coltharp says:

    When so many of today’s books are about the science of cocktails or a famous bar his was about the people and how to take care of them. I think there is a place for all of it but we need more of what he taught us.

  • I contacted him a dozen times by email, he always responded politely and wisely.
    His books helped me a lot and several times.
    He even wrote to me without knowing me in person a letter of recommendation when I applied for a visa to visit TOTC a while ago.
    I saw it in Berlin, but I did not encourage myself to introduce myself.
    MY shakespeare language management is very basic, I was afraid of being like a fool.
    Thanks for sharing this friend.
    You leave my heart happy, we are all going to miss Gary, I hope we all remember him as he was, the grandfather of all the bartenders. And the spiritual guide of all of us.

    Best regards from the far far south

  • Greg says:

    Great story. Emotional. I learned of Gary’s passing while looking at the Imbibe website to share a recipe while sitting at the bar at Comstock Saloon in San Francisco. At least I was well positioned to mourn appropriately.

  • What a great story to remember Gaz by. Thank you, Jeff.

  • Dennis says:

    Great story Jeffrey. Thank you for sharing and making us All smile!

  • Alex Perez says:

    That is classic! Made my eyes water…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *