Don’t call Bill Norris a mixologist. Call him a bartender.
Or better yet, call him a storyteller.
“The second novel is currently on hold. I’ve got a few other things on my plate right now,” jokes Norris.
Immediately after our interview, Norris was heading off to New Orleans to compete in the 2011 Tales of the Cocktail conference and competition to continue adding achievements to his illustrious cocktail resume.
Already, Norris was named the Texas Regional Champion in the 2008 Cocktail World Cup and a three-time finalist in the U.S. Bartender’s Guild National Cocktail Competition. And the Austin Chronicle Reader’s Poll “Best Mixologist.”
Eek. There’s that word again.
“I hate the word mixology, it’s pretentious. I prefer to just call it bartending,” says the straight-shooting New Jersey native.
When asked how he ended up in Austin, Norris smiles. “I came here for ACL and never left. I came down for the long weekend and ended up staying here for ten years.”
“I hate the word mixology, it’s pretentious. I prefer to just call it bartending.”
Since then, Norris has been a huge influence in the burgeoning craft cocktail scene of Austin. First, he helped develop the playful cocktail menu at FINO before launching the nationally recognized bar program at Haddington’s.
With his pedigree and experience, some might wonder: Why a movie theatre?
Without hesitation, Norris beams. “I’ve been in the fine dining world for almost seventeen years now, so this is an entirely new set of challenges. Plus, this is a place that really values their product.”
He adds, “I would put the beer lists at some of the Alamos up against any beer menu in town. And I don’t think a lot of people realize that, but they’ve got twenty to thirty taps at some of those stores. That’s incredible.”
The feeling, of course, is mutual. In a recent press release, Drafthouse owner Tim League praised Norris by stating, “I’ve been a huge fan of Bill Norris since he was crafting cocktails at FINO. He’s been my hands-down favorite bartender ever since.”
Even with the high praise, The Drafthouse will be putting Norris through the gauntlet as soon as he gets back in town. To understand their operations inside and out, Norris is doing every job at the Alamo for a night, from server to box office to kitchen crew.
“They have me doing everything, which is very cool,” laughs Norris. “It’s very smart operationally. And it’s such an open environment that way. If someone has an idea on how to improve something, they’ll get heard.”
So what is he most excited about bringing to the Alamo’s liquid future?
“I want to continue on the road they’re already on. They know what they’re doing,” points out Norris.
“But I do know I want to bring all the beer experts at each of the Alamos together for additional brainstorming, “says Norris. “And I’m also excited about the potential for new drinks at the Highball to go along with their programming.”
As the Drafthouse continues to expand throughout Austin and the nation, Norris is the ideal addition to the team. As an Alamo fan and a decorated bartending veteran, our taste buds are in good hands.
[Editor's Note: Caitlin Stevens announced on the Alamo blog on Aug 3 that the newest South MoPac Drafthouse under construction would have a next door tequila bar called 400 Rabbits. Part of Norris's new role is developing a new agave-focused drink menu for the new Drafthouse venture.]