Bartender Profile: Phil Richardson at Basi Italia
When the name Phil Richardson is mentioned, serious local drinkers and socialites immediately perk up. They want to know what he’s doing, where he is, and how they can get to him. See, Phil Richardson is the man behind several of my, and many others’, favorite cocktails around town, and if you are so lucky to have him make you a drink, be prepared to savor and order another forthwith.
Richardson got his start in the bartending business while at college in Cincinnati some eighteen years ago. By the time he had completed his degrees in African American Studies and Marketing, he knew that being behind the bar, and creating delicious drinks, was his life’s calling.
“I’m really in it for that feeling you get when you see everyone having a good time,” Richardson shares as he reminisces about one of his first loves. “I love being able to step back, take a moment, look around, and see how everyone’s enjoying themselves… and to know you helped create that, it’s something spiritual almost.”
It’s one of the reasons, despite his talent for creating new drinks and drink menus, he doesn’t want to step out from behind the bar. The relationship between bartending and mixology is one that’s sacred to Richardson, and he can’t imagine doing one without the other.
Bartending allows him the chance to chat with customers, find out what makes them laugh, what flavors they enjoy, so they become regulars after only one visit. Mixology is where his creativity shines, and that passion to conceptualize, and then bring into being, something special, elevates both trades, and makes Richardson a true master in his domain.
But you’d never know you were chatting with genius when you approach him. Richardson, with his trademark dreadlocks and full beard, is one of the most humble, and easy-going guys in the business, and has been for the fifteen years he’s been doing this full time. It’s his demeanor that really makes fans out of strangers, and one of the indicators of the success he has had, and will continue to have.
“You can’t get caught up in the drink, and forget the customer,” Richardson imparts. “You can’t let ego get in the way. [You] learn the craft, and be sure not to forget the service. [You] can’t get caught up in the money; that shouldn’t be second to the people.”
And the people love him for it. I once asked Richardson to make me something with Campari, as it’s not a popular drink ingredient around town, but a personal favorite of mine. What he gave me was ambrosia in a glass: slightly sweet from fresh-squeezed orange juice, bitter from the liqueur, tart, and the right amount of bite from gin and something else I could never figure out, but didn’t mind that I couldn’t. It was divine and instinctive. I officially became a Phil-lip Head that night.
I know others feel the same. Currently, Richardson is the bartender extraordinaire at Basi Italia in Victorian Village where he’s creating innovative spring and summer cocktails not to be missed. One of his latest, the S & S, is a simple concoction of Ketel One vodka, Allspice Dram, honey syrup, cranberry and lime juice. It’s perfectly refreshing, and not a predictable blend of flavors. But it works, as does the relationship between him and the owners of Basi Italia.
“I like the neighborhood feel of this place… it’s fun and exciting… but they [also] have a simple style I like,” Richardson shares. “It feels like home here, not work… I’ve known John and Trish for a while now, and we always had the idea I’d work here. Last summer, we connected, and I wish I’d been here ten years ago.”
Richardson eventually wants to open his own place: a BBQ restaurant (it’s in his blood) with, of course, a killer drink menu. He wants to enjoy the kind of longevity John Dornback and Trish Gentile, owners of Basi Italia, have. In thirty years, he wants his place to still be open, that he still makes people happy, and “succeeds the trends of the day”.
For now, Richardson is enjoying the social freedom and decent paycheck that comes with being one of the best bar men in the city. A certified bourbon-and-beer man, his straightforward approach to his craft and his ease in working with others pretty much guarantees that whatever’s on the horizon for this local icon, he’ll meet it with diligence and grace.
“This is my passion,” Richardson says as he nods in self-agreement. “I know that there’s nothing that’ll take me away from this. This is what I was always supposed to do.”
More information about Basi Italia can be found online at www.basi-italia.com.
Photos by Logan Miller of www.LCMphoto.org.