Getting to Know: Sean Palmer
East Coast born Sean Palmer, who developed his wine and spirit skills at Michelin-starred San Francisco restaurant Spruce, is a mixologist and bar manager at Handle in Park City. Over the past few years, creations such as his Pineapple Express and Handle Your Summer have consistently ranked him among the top vote-getters in the Park City Area Restaurant Association’s annual Park City Cocktail Contest.
Q: You moved to Park City, then San Francisco, then back to Park City. When you returned, what made you feel most at home?
A: Everybody is here for similar reasons. It’s a small-town, family-oriented ski community, where people are willing to slow down a bit. Although with a four-month-old baby my wife and I haven’t been able to slow down that much.
Q: What brought you to Park City in the first place?
A: It’s a story familiar to many young people here. I got a call from a friend who promised me a job, a couch to sleep on, and “the best skiing you’ve ever seen.”
Q: Is it harder to create a new cocktail or come up with a name for it?
A: It goes both ways. Sometimes you create a good drink and are not sure what to name it, and sometimes you get a name you like and struggle to base a drink around that. My go-to for the names is a writer friend who has contributed, among others, Oaxaca With Love, and Smokey and the Bandit.
Q: What wines pair best with the Wasatch Mountains?
A: The food here is definitely mountain cuisine, so fuller bodied cabernets and pinot noirs work well.
Q: What is the most important thing working at Handle has taught you about food?
A: That it needs to be consistently good, and prepared with love. What Handle has taught me about myself is that I am happy interacting with guests, perhaps while hand-selling a bottle of wine, instead of sitting behind a desk somewhere, which I had first assumed was the way my life would go.
Q: If someone were to write a book about your life, what would the title be?
A: You tend to form pretty tight-knit groups in the food and beverage industry, so I would say something like “One Team, One Dream.” At Handle, it’s almost our motto, because we have a SEAL Team Six kind of attitude that says “no man left behind.”
Q: What do you admire most about your favorite fictional bartender?
A: None of my favorite bartenders are fictional. In my career, the people I have admired most are Brandon Clements — when he was at Spruce, in San Francisco, he taught me how to be creative with cocktails — and sommelier Joey Lopaka, who helped me develop my knowledge and love of wine.
Q: How many drinks can you pour in a night and still be a good listener?
A: At Handle we sometimes serve as many as 250 drinks in a night, so I’m not sure. But I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I can tell you there isn’t much I haven’t listened to.
Q: How do you define a good tipper?
A: Oh, I’m not going to answer that one. But do remember that we have to make a living off your generosity.
Q: On a busy night, what’s the best way to get a bartender’s attention?
A: With a smile and eye contact.
Q: A man wearing a beehive (Utah’s state symbol), on his head walks into a Park City bar. The bartender says…?
A: We don’t serve anybody who’s already buzzed.