"No, I'm just a bartender," Thomas Boran assures me for maybe the third time as I watch him deftly handle the early evening crowd in Hotel Derek's new Vin Bar. Nevertheless, there's something in his manner -- thoughtful, precise, capable -- that reminds me of a beverage manager. Maybe it's his academic credentials. "I'm finishing my degree at the University of Houston, the Bauer College; it's the business school, management and finance. I'm just bartending right now as my full time job. I've done it plus school since I was 17," he says. "My favorite thing about being a bartender is the hours. I can work on my degree, and what we get paid for the amount of time we spend here--it's very lucrative. I've done it for a while; it's really all I've done. I'm good at it."
Boran's head for numbers and details is obvious when he talks about the process of opening a bar from scratch. "Vin Bar was open four weeks prior to the grand opening last Thursday. When you start from scratch, you work on getting everything organized, making sure that you're set up for success, that everyone behind you can keep up the pace, and that you have all the necessary tools -- all your glassware, your dishes and where you're keeping them -- making sure it's efficient so you don't have to run to the back to grab an espresso spoon. Everything is set up to minimize going back and forth," says Boran.
Boran says one thing that hasn't changed much at Vin Bar since the opening is the drinks menu. "A lot of the inspiration for the drinks came from the other Valentino properties, but we also have a very hands-on, visionary manager that really played a big part in developing our cocktail list. Fifteen-hundred miles away in Las Vegas, you have people asking for Tito's, so now for the sake of Texas he's taken the Tito's vodka and smoked it. Then we add some salumi in the glass, the prosciutto and mortadella, thinly sliced, whatever meats we have fresh from our crudo bar. It's a nice, smoky flavor with the cured meat."
How has his day job impacted his life outside work? Boran admits it can be hard to leave the five-star lifestyle at the door. "It's funny, when you get to that level where you're working with white-tablecloth or at a high-end, high-volume lounge, you find yourself becoming the only group of middle-class elitists. You only like to drink the best, but you're on a Bud Light budget," laughs Boran. "I've tried some phenomenal, knockout wines, and I've sat in on tastings where I've had, you know, 1970 magnum Dom Perignon, and having had what I've tasted, it definitely is hard. Especially with wine, that hits the budget. But I like it so much I just limit how often I do it, because if I'm going to do it I'm going to do it well."