Once upon a time there was an aspiring filmmaker named Billy. He was smart, handsome, and super talented. But in order to pay the bills, he chose to work in the hospitality industry. Fast-forward from the 1990’s to the present, and Billy Hines has carved out a wonderful legacy of cocktails from Orlando and Las Vegas, to more recently, Wrap Shack and Morea here in Philadelphia. He’s a champion flair bartender, consultant, bar owner, mixologist, and more recently general manager and beverage manager at Wrap Shack and Morea.
I got the opportunity to interview this virtuoso of cocktails last week at Morea, heading into Memorial Day weekend. Here is the conversation I had with him.
How did you get into bartending?
I got into bartending via T.G.I. Fridays. I was working as a filmmaker, and to supplement my income between movies, I worked as a bartender at a T.G.I. Fridays in Florida. I was inspired by the movie “Cocktail”.
Tell me about a memorable cocktail you’ve created?
I am not going to tell you about this one drink, it has an interesting name, but one cocktail that is on Morea’s drink menu is the “Drunken Elephant”. This drink I’ve had in my head on and off for the last eight years. Another cocktail that was really memorable for me was this Crown maple cocktail that I created without actually tasting it. It was 2013, and there was a top 30 cocktail competition, Best of the U.S. I saw this recipe, tweaked it, and submitted it to the event. People loved it, and I never needed to make it, or taste it.
Yes or no, cocktail influencers are a bad influence for the industry?
They are a definite yes for me. Cocktails should be pretty, should evoke a memory, and cocktail influencers have a good effect right now.
What are some trends that are good, and trends that you wish would go away?
One trend that is definitely here to stay is batching cocktails. Gone are the days of just making a 10-minute cocktail. People like the idea of having a drink that is poured from a keg. The trick is to make sure that you are creating cocktails that everyone will like and buy. Cocktails should always look good, and have something different and interesting. Also, making draft cocktails just as good as craft cocktails. One thing that I’ve always strived for is a good, balanced cocktail. Most places may not necessarily think about how to balance a cocktail, and that is something that I always do. One definite trend that should go away is something that I like to call, the arrogance of cocktails.
Billy, who’s a bartender’s bartender, believes it’s more than a cocktail, but focus more on the guests and the experience. He told me, “it’s not just about the spirits you serve, but the spirit of those you serve”.
What is one tool that a bartender should have in their personal and professional inventory?
Proper tin and topper. No need for a super expensive brand, but as long as you take care of it, it will last.
What’s a favorite bar or city that you like going to?
New Orleans. There is nothing like going to New Orleans and finding something new, or rediscovering an old favorite. Most bartenders will mention a local place, but I love New Orleans.
What’s your advice to home bartenders?
Don’t be afraid to experiment. Be creative, and just because someone may not like how you made a cocktail, don’t stop, or get mad.
Never one to stay put, Billy always makes sure that the cocktail menu is in line with the seasons. He likes to change the menu slightly so customers won’t tire of the same drinks. I got to try his three new specialty cocktails. They were all amazing, and perfect for the warm weather ahead of us.
If you haven’t been to Morea, put it high on your list to go. The food, cocktails, and service are among the best in the city.