As head bartender at Sable Kitchen & Bar, Mike Ryan brings his signature culinary flair to the craft cocktail movement. The Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago graduate, former Moto sous chef and self-described “shot and a beer guy” became accidentally enamored with bartending while working as a cook at Fulton Market molecular gastronomy restaurant Moto between 2005 and 2008 “He [owner Homaro Cantu] wanted a cook behind the bar,” remembers Ryan. “I was literally looking up things like highballs in a book.” Soon, Ryan became interested in the possibilities presented by unusual spirits, classic mixes and new flavor profiles.
Ryan grew up outside Philadelphia in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and moved to Chicago in 2001 to attend culinary school, and, while working at Otom and Moto, began spending his free time at Wicker Park’s The Violet Hour. “I was trying all the classics, reading up on the history,” Ryan remembers. In 2008, he was asked to join The Violet Hour team.
“My mentor is [Violet Hour head bartender] Mike Rubel,” says Ryan. “He’s incredibly knowledgeable about spirits and their history.” Ryan spent his time at The Violet Hour “banging out drinks, tasting, learning, really understanding the relationships between sweet, sour, bitter and booze.” At the same time, he continued to hone his hospitality skills. “How great is it when you can give somebody exactly what they’re looking for, even if they don’t know exactly what they want?”
Ryan’s behind-the-bar plan for Sable is to leave guests feeling both at home and constantly engaged. As far as mixology goes, he says, “I’m a fan of bright, loud, vibrant flavors. I like to use egregious amounts of bitters, bold whiskies and try cool savory ingredients while utilizing my kitchen background to ‘take it to the next level.’” Ryan wouldn’t have left The Violet Hour for an opportunity any less promising, he says. “Being in charge at Sable gives me the chance to explore some thoughts I have about cocktails, and chase down a few philosophical ideas about bartending.” Under Ryan’s leadership, the Sable bar houses one of the largest selections of brown spirits in the city.
A Logan Square, Chicago, resident, Ryan was a 2009 scholarship recipient in the Cocktail Apprentice program at New Orleans’ annual Tales of the Cocktail, a high-profile industry convention. He has been featured in Time Out Chicago, The New York Times and Whiskey magazine.