Jon Howard is head bartender of Henley in Nashville.
Better Bartending: Where are you from originally?
Jon Howard: Born in Huntsville, AL, and spent a majority of my adult life in New York City.
BB: What brought you to Nashville?
JH: My now wife and I were looking to start a family and move to more open spaces, so after looking around we found that the growing city with a small town heart was exactly where we needed to be. The bar and restaurant communities were very very cool and had a personality of its own which excited us. Plus the people here are so friendly!
BB: How did you get started in bartending?
JH: I was in college and had been in restaurants before but my brother needed a coworker at the bar he was running, so he gave me a shot and taught me all the basics needed to begin what has now become my life’s work.
BB: How would you rate the Nashville bar scene?
JH: The Nashville bar scene is still growing, but there are very few places here where you can’t get a good drink, and a couple places where you get a GREAT drink. From the Honky Tonks to the dive bars, restaurants, and cocktail joints, it is a really solid place to drink no matter what your tastes.
There is a reason bars from LA and NYC are coming to make Nashville outposts. To put a number on it, I’d give it a 9, because nothing is perfect, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try.
BB: What’s your favorite cocktail to drink?
JH: A Rum Old Fashioned with Ron Zacapa specifically. It’s just so beautiful and easy to drink and good for happy hour or a night cap.
BB:What’s your favorite cocktail to make for others?
JH: Whatever cocktail they want me to make that will bring them joy—it’s the experience not the ingredients.
BB: Least favorite cocktail to make?
JH: There are not many of these, but I would say deceptive drinks that a guests orders via sight rather than knowing the ingredients.
For example, someone who has been drinking bright Tiki drinks sees a tall purple drink with leafy greens on top and orders that drink off of how it looks. And when you explain to them that is a mezcal drink, with beet and Greek yogurt and they say they don’t care–but end up hating it.
BB: You’ve competed in a number of cocktail competitions—and won the Woodford Reserve Master of the Manhattan in 2016. What advice do you have for bartenders entering their first contest?
JH: Keep it simple, tell a story, be yourself. All of our Henley bartenders that compete use this as a guideline.
Keep it simple so that your drinks are understandable and can be easily replicated. Tell a story, because it makes you think about more than the ingredients and that can bring about of really cool ideas for concept and presentation. And then the ingredients all have a purpose.
And finally just be who you are. Judges want to see what you are like behind your bar every night, so give them what they want.
BB: Would you share the recipe for one of your original cocktails, and what inspired you to create it?
JH: Greenlands was inspired by the idea of greener pastures. So, it’s something refreshing using several ingredients from different parts of the world. This ideology symbolizes the thoughts immigrants as they came over to the U.S. through Ellis Island—that they were headed to greener lands, with more possibilities for themselves and their families.
1 ½ oz. Ketel One vodka
½ oz. Pineau des Charentes
½ oz. Aqua de Cedro liqueur
¾ oz. Lime juice
½ oz. Simple syrup
In a mixing tin, add salt and herb, followed by remaining ingredients building from the juice up. Add ice and shake, fine stain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with a few nasturtium leaves and a discarded lemon twist.