Call Alex Bennett dedicated, a little obsessive, even. Call him a hybrid, part old-timey bartender — big on camaraderie, and, as Billy Joel once sang, quick with a joke — and part new-fangled, focused on locally sourced ingredients and hand-crafted touches.
Just don’t call him a mixologist.
“I’m a bartender,” insists Bennett, who can be found plying his trade to the tasty delight of the customers at west Delray Beach’s Terra Fiamma. “To me, a true bartender should do all of the things that a mixologist says they do. A lot of people are jumping to that term ‘mixologist’ without any real background. I run in a close-knit community of very high-end bartenders that all cringe at that word. When somebody starts with, ‘I’m a mixologist,’ nine out of ten times it’s ‘Meh.’”
So deep was his passion for perfectly made drinks that he started his bartender training in his native Boston at 17, getting his license on his 18th birthday, the earliest he was eligible.
“I’ve always enjoyed talking with people, and the creativity. There’s no rules in a drink. It doesn’t matter how somebody else likes something. It’s what tastes good to you, what you enjoy,” Bennett says, his words speeding up excitedly. “I talk to you. I ask you what you want, not what I want. That kind of experience keeps them coming back.”
Bennett’s specialty is a creative spin on classic cocktails, like the Manhattan, which he’s adapted with wildly flavored bitters, some of which he makes himself.
“I love a really properly made, stirred Manhattan,” he says.
He spends his off hours looking for new ways to jazz up his cocktails, including fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables found at local farmers markets, and surprising seasonings, like a jerk rub.
“Not everyone is gonna like every drink, but it’s fun to get someone to drink something they wouldn’t have thought they would like,” he says. “I have done that with the Basil Smash (a signature cocktail at Terra Fiamma). People say ‘I hate gin! But I love this drink, though.’”
FIND THE BAR
Terra Fiamma: 9169 West Atlantic Avenue, Delray Beach; 561-495-5570; TerraFiamma.com