Ask A Bartender: Cocktail Chats with Revival Food Hall’s Mark Phelan

Operated by Chicago hospitality collective 16 On Center, Revival Food Hall is an all-local dining concept that aims to spotlight the best of Chicago’s acclaimed culinary scene under one roof. The massive, 24,000-square-foot marketplace is located in the heart of Chicago’s central business district on the ground floor of The National, a restoration of a historic 1907 Daniel Burnham-designed 20-story building. A cornerstone of The Loop neighborhood, Revival Food Hall opened in 2016 and has 15 of Chicago’s favorite neighborhood restaurants in a grab-and-go setting, in addition to several all-new concepts debuting from several acclaimed Chicago chefs.

I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with Mark Phelan, Beverage Director of Revival Cafe-Bar, the all-day bar located inside Revival Food Hall. Prior to landing at Revival Food Hall, Phelan had been with the Rhine Hall Distillery and Soho House Chicago. More on Revival Food Hall can be found on their website.

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How did you become a bartender?

Mark Phelan: I studied horticulture and worked for five years as an analyst for a seed production company. I found the work increasingly unfulfilling and picked up a side job as a bar back near my house. Working with my hands and offering my energy and hospitality to our guests was like magic to me, so I pursued it full-time.

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And how did you wind up bartending at Revival?

Mark Phelan: I responded to an open call with very little experience, but a genuine desire to learn as much as I could about the craft and service. They took a chance on me and here we are two and a half years later!

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Do you have a favorite drink on the Revival menu?

Mark Phelan: My current favorite is the Irish C&C — coffee and cookie — a classic Irish coffee using Glendalough’s Double Barrel Irish Whiskey, a little Demerara and our cafe’s dark roast coffee, topped with a layer of hand-whipped cream. The particular roast and whiskey pair perfectly here, but it’s the cookie from Mindy’s HotChocolate Bakery that really makes it a great little lunch or after-work indulgence.

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Can you tell me about the most recent cocktail you developed there?

Mark Phelan: We recently created a winter spritz that incorporates orange and a Greek white wine called Retsina that has flavors of pine with subtle herbal and vanilla tones. We keg it and carbonate it through our draft lines for a light and bright yet winter-spiced riff on what is normally a warm weather beverage.

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What do you wish more people knew about life behind the bar?

Mark Phelan: It is a job that many consider a life-long career and those that do are constantly studying, practicing and learning just as one would in any profession or industry.

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So what do you enjoy most about your job?

Mark Phelan: I most enjoy the pursuit of perfection and genuine interactions with our guests. When everything is in its place and each staff member is prepared for service, the reward for our work is the opportunity to connect with our guests each evening. Where else can complete strangers feel at ease to strike up true conversations these days? It is my joy and privilege to create these moments every day.

When not busy with work, how do you like to spend your free time?

Mark Phelan: I’m an old man at heart. I love classic American fiction novels, playing Scrabble at old school spots like Manny’s Deli, napping in the shade when it’s warm or finding a cozy spot to catch up with a friend when it’s cold.

What was the last concert you attended for fun?

Mark Phelan: I saw Charles Bradley perform a few months before he passed away. His voice was incredible and his live performances were on-par with James Brown. He loved what he did and I got goosebumps just being there.

Finally, Mark, any last words for the kids?

Mark Phelan: Try to think like an owner in whatever profession you’re pursuing. Every day is training for the one in which you will become the owner yourself!

 

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