Welcome to Front & Center, a series highlighting front of the house professionals in Chicago restaurants. Right now, Chandra Ram, editor of Plate magazine, writes about Sepia mixologist Joshua Pearson.
Sometimes life isn't as fun as you thought it to be. There are work deadlines, annoying people and unexplained stains on your clothing. You feel schlumpy and tired for no good reason other than the fact that the world just happens to be kicking your butt at the moment. That's when I stop by the bar at Sepia.
Sepia is a place that can improve almost everything that is wrong with your day. The world outside falls away—there's no traffic making you late or humidity screwing up your hair at Sepia; they don't exist in that world. You're instantly a sleeker, more stylish person when you walk in; I think it's a halo effect from being near anything touched by Sepia owner Emmanuel Nony.
The staff at the door know exactly how to greet you in that way that makes you feel like they know you even if they don't—and even better, they like you. You're welcomed without anyone acting clubby or exclusive in that horrible tone that makes you feel like they are doing you some huge favor by letting you in.
Then you sit down at the bar, and Josh Pearson comes over to greet you and ask what he can get you. And he cares about it. He doesn't want you to order a vodka tonic because it's easier. He wants to get a sense of who you are and what you like to drink so he can make something perfect for that very moment in your life. He doesn't mind taking six minutes discussing whether the day was made for a French 75 or one of his killer Manhattans before you default to a glass of Riesling.
He's the consummate professional bartender: friendly and wants to chat in his lovely Australian-but-not-Crocodile-Dundee accent, but understands when you just want to sip your drink and nibble on a charcuterie plate as you watch other people become instantly sophisticated as they walk in the door.
Josh is the kind of bartender I hope they have in heaven, having been convinced for some time now that the hereafter includes a lovely bar with dark wood, good glassware and comfortable bar stools, I think about this a lot and worry whether heaven includes warm gougeres and sparkling rosé. I'm pretty sure that if the Sepia team is in charge, it does.
—Chandra Ram, Plate