As head bartender at Sable Kitchen & Bar, Mike Ryan brings his signature culinary flair to the crafted cocktail. A Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago graduate, former Moto sous chef, and self-described “shot and a beer guy,” Ryan became accidentally enamored with bartending while working as a cook at Fulton Market restaurant Moto between 2005 and 2008. [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. While working at Otom and Moto, he 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.
Ryan spent his time at The Violet Hour, “banging out drinks, tasting, learning,” as well as soaking up all information he could from his mentor, Violet Hour head bartender Mike Rubel. It was alongside Rubel that Ryan began “really understanding the relationships between sweet, sour, bitter and booze.” And he would be there today, if it weren’t for the beguiling opportunity that came his way—the chance to design his own behind-the-bar program.
Ryan’s plan for the Sable bar 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; “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.”
He’s making quite a name for himself. 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.