I first met the fascinating HiggyPop during a visit to review Max’s Harvest. I was intrigued with his Bar Brawls competition, created in 2015, and sat down with him to discuss the upcoming Bar Brawls II: Death or Glory, the cocktail scene and more.
How did you create this bartender competition series?
The original concept was created in the Spring of 2015 at the now shuttered Max’s Social House. At the time, we were in the middle of the overwhelming success of the Chef vs. Chef series at our sister restaurant, Max’s Harvest. We quickly realized that a similar type of event would be viable at SoHo with the competition shifting from the kitchen to behind the bar.
Bob & Ayme & David & Annie: The resurrection of Bar Brawls started back in January. Two of Death or Glory’s co-owners Annie Blake and Ayme Harrision, GM Bar Director David Bouchard and myself were sharing old Bar Brawls war stories when the idea came up. I was hesitant at first, but the more we talked it through, the more excited I got. It was a no-brainer.
What is your favorite classic cocktail and why?
Probably the Negroni–so many flavors fighting for their own seat at the table. The bitterness of campari, the sweetness of the vermouth and herbaceousness of the gin are all distinctive in their own right, but all balance out at the end, well, if made properly. Plus who doesn’t love a good story? There are so many great stories out there of the origin of the Negroni but no one really knows and that is the best part.
What sets this competition apart from others?
I’m the host…
What is your favorite Bar Brawls memory?
So many memories and so many that are a blur, but my favorite was Fitzy’s speech at the end of Week 2 after it was announced that he was eliminated. He represented our community with the utmost class. At almost 50 years of age, he spoke of how he spent hours studying the classics and working on the finer intricacies of his trade, a trade he has dedicated his entire career to. He did himself, his fans and the entire bar community proud without ever advancing. In the true meaning of the competition, Fitzy won!
What is your essential bar utensil and must have accessory?
Hawthorne Strainer and a PolyScience Chef Series Sous Vide Commercial Immersion Circulator
What is your favorite goof that happened during the first series?
Rob Cox using almost every rye whiskey we had behind the bar except the mystery ingredient… Michter’s Rye.
What trend excites you most about today’s culinary and bar scene?
I’m a throwback of sorts and do not adhere to everything trendy but I generally take the same approach to food and beverage. Buy good ingredients, fix them up a bit and sell them for a profit. The whole “farm to table” bullshit that people can’t seem to let go of around here. People are just marketing how you are supposed to source ingredients…wow, congratulations on being responsible and having integrity. Do you really need a pat on the back for that?
In regards to things I like, phoneless dining. I recently went on a 96 day sabbatical in search of my soul and spent my first 34 days without any phone or internet service. It was fucking liberating, not being a slave to a telephone. Sharing food with people is one of the most intimate things you can do, it takes dinner beyond what is on the plate or in the glass. You learn about people and their cultures. You express perspectives on life and find common ground. Kind of tough to do with an iPhone on the table.
I also am enamored of the Food Hall craze; they are the new food trucks. These Halls give young chefs and entrepreneurs the opportunity to own their own joint, without having to battle developer’s massive rising rent costs. Essentially, it is a more authentic and more “local” food court without the S’barros, Chick-fil-A’s and Tacos Bells of the world. Consider them the food court’s much more mature cousin with real food to eat and real bars to drink at.
All About Bob
Bob Higginbotham’s passion for the development of creative beverage programs and successful restaurants is driven by nearly 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry. Throughout his career, he has served in every level of restaurant management and operations from beverage director, to general manager, to owner/operator. In 2014, he moved to Florida (from Rhode Island) to take on the GM role at Max’s Social House (SOHO) in Delray Beach. It was at SOHO that he created Bar Brawls, the summer competitive bartender challenge featuring top rated professionals from Palm Beach to Miami.
He launched Atlantic Avenue Beverage in 2016, and has worked with a variety of high profile clients throughout South Florida and beyond. His vast experience allows him a unique perspective and intimate knowledge of all aspects involved in creating and executing a successful enterprise. Bob is a member of the International Live Events Society, United States Bartenders Guild Palm Beach Chapter, and the Rhode Island Association of Hospitality and Tourism.