Behind the Stick with Cam Fomby and Ben Marquart of Counterpoint
Counterpoint, located in Golden Hill, has been one of our favorite spots to hang out since 2009. They are creating some amazing cocktails, serving delicious eats and they know how to party while bringing a fun atmosphere to its guest. Owner Cam Fomby and bartender Ben Marquart chats with us about their Gin & Tonic and how Counterpoint got its start.
Gin & Tonic
2 oz Plymouth Gin
.75 oz Counterpoint tonic syrup
4 oz soda water
Garnish with a lime wheel
What's the story behind the Gin & Tonic?
Well, I like gin. And tonic, for that matter. I started in my early twenties, drinking shitty well gin and even shittier gin tonic. I was drinking them initially to piss off my friends when I bought a round, not my idea, but it cracked me up when a friend of a friend was doing it, so like anyone in front of a good idea, I copied it (Thank you, Wags). Over time, I actually started enjoying them. A few years ago, I ran across a story about where tonic came from, basically the British realized their ability to further their empire was tied to their troops not dying from malaria. They couldn’t get them to take their medicine, which was a tea made from cinchona bark, so they said the only way you get your daily ration of gin is mixed with this “tonic.” Since they were all big boys and girls, they choked down the tonic so they could get a buzz. We started fucking around and came up with our version of tonic, hopefully a little less ass-y than the original version, only drinkable as a means to an end.
You're not just getting a basic Gin & Tonic at Counterpoint, walk us through the process of creating the Gin & Tonic.
Well, making tonic sucks. The excitement of making it quickly wore off in direct proportion to its popularity. It is a happy problem to have but tonic-making day is once a week now, and we generally detest it. It’s a shit ton of zesting and juicing, chopping several pounds of lemon grass and a final straining process that would strain the discipline of a Jesuit. No pun intended. Fuck puns. Gin has an unique taste and you would be surprised that not a lot of people tried this cocktail, so describe the taste to some one who's never had it.
We use our well gin, Plymouth. It’s a standard, proper English gin, not super juniper forward and easy to drink, especially for people a little nervous about gin. I can’t say for certain, but I think it is usually the strong juniper in some gins that backs people away from it. I’ve served this cocktail to a number of people who said they like neither gin nor gin and tonic, with the assurance that I’ll happily take it back if they don’t love it. Only had one sent back, and I’m pretty sure she was just being stubborn.
When choosing a gin, why did you pick Plymouth Gin?
I wanted something easy to drink and approachable. For the best Gin & Tonic ever, try calling for Junipero Gin, from Anchor Distilling. Hands down my favorite gin of all-time.
What reactions do you get from customers when they try this cocktail for the first time?
Surprised and they want another round.
Watch as Owner Cam Fomby and bartender Ben Marquart shows us how to make their version of the classic Gin & Tonic.
What kind of experience can diners get at Counterpoint?
Real. We take it personally that you walk in here, willing to share your time with us. This is supposed to be a neighborhood spot, an extension of your own living room, and we try to keep it that way. We try to check our own lives, our own ups and downs, at the door, and understand you’re here to be fed, in very general terms. So we try to engage in a real way. Be weird. Inappropriate. If you’re not laughing, we’re probably crying.
About Cam Fomby
Are you from San Diego?
Nope. Came out here in the Marine Corps in 1988. I’ll die here. How did the concept of Counterpoint come about?
I was gainfully unemployed. I had no idea what to do next and didn’t have retirement money. On an extended fuck around trip to New Zealand, I was overwhelmed by the…care I witnessed literally everywhere I went. There is this culture in America of hating your job, and worse, hating your customers, which everyone has and fucking needs. I found the opposite in New Zealand. I think because it is an entrepreneurial place, people work for themselves a lot and so they have a culture of celebrating their guests, and you can feel it. I made a comment that we don’t have that at home. We have bartenders who won't look at you, have zero problem letting you know that they are annoyed by you or how uncool you are if you don’t know “how to drink right.” We have servers who are fucking beautiful people, and snap their gum and tap their foot and make no bones about letting you know how bothered they are by you. I said maybe that’s what I should do, go home and open a bar/restaurant. I got a dry look in return and a scoffing “Dude, you couldn’t do that. You don’t know anything about restaurants.” I hate being told I can't do something. So I built and opened Counterpoint. I still don’t know anything about restaurants. But I’ll say this, I thought I would like it or I never would have spend the money and effort to do it. I just cannot adequately express to you how much I love it. We get to make people happy. That sounds like a total douchebag thing to say, but it's true. Define the perfect cocktail.
I like simple. I like ordinary things done extraordinarily well. A simple cocktail with something house-made such as bitters, orgeat or house-made Maraschino cherry. Complicated shit with 17 obscure ingredients make me feel like someone is giving themselves a tug behind the bar and that bores the hell out of me. What's you're favorite cocktail to drink?
Gin & Tonic. Always has been, always will be. What's the most difficult cocktail you had to make for a customer?
I’m not qualified to answer that. I’m a horrible bartender. Making a glass of water pushes my boundaries. Are you a gin fan? If so, what's your favorite gin libation?
Yes. Absolutely. All of them. I’m happy to drink warm gin and I do. What is one thing you wish people understood about bartending?
That these fuckers work their asses off in a way not describable. I mean that. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever done. It's not’t rocket science, but to do it right and to really do it right, you gotta divorce yourself from your life, you gotta let go, and bring some joy, some love and some heat. You can’t fake it. Look, anyone can take a recipe, pay attention and make a drink, but the gig is tending the bar. What should everyone stock in their home bar?
What they like to dink. What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs wanting to start up their own establishment?
Understand it’s a business. Understand it’s all on you if it goes wrong, and you better be drowning in gratitude for the people who put out for you every single day to make it happen if it goes right. If you’re going to be successful, it's going to be because you paid enough attention and got lucky enough to have good people who genuinely have a fuck to give about how they do their job.
What do you in your spare time when you're not handling the operations of Counterpoint?
Woods. Always the woods. Solo, or with my sweet baby boy, or friends if any are free. Gotta have the woods. What's next for you?
There have been rumblings of a next spot. I believe that will happen. When I walk into a place and can see it, I’m looking forward to it. I truly have the best fucking people I could imagine here. If I didn’t do it with these good souls, I’d be more of an idiot than I already am, and that’s considerable.
About Ben Marquart
Are you from San Diego?
I am originally from Chicago, I've been in San Diego for 13 years now.
How did you get into bartending?
I started bartending in college and I thought it was one of the best jobs I've ever had. When I moved to San Diego, I got a job as a bartender while going to grad school but it didn't really take off for me until we opened Counterpoint in October 2009. I absolutely loved the idea of hospitality and the service industry. Making people happy was my job and the fact that I get to learn about spirits, wines and beer. How cool is that!
What has your journey been like before becoming a bartender at Counterpoint?
When I moved to San Diego, I was going to grad school for architecture and worked in that field for several years. When I started working at Counterpoint, I was actually doing both, architecture and Counterpoint. I ultimately decided I was happier working in restaurants, so I went with it.
Define the perfect cocktail.
Balance. To be able to taste all the ingredients individually as well the final product is the perfect cocktail in my mind.
What's you're favorite cocktail to drink?
I love a good old fashioned, but most times I just like having a beer and a shot.
Are you a gin fan? If so, what's your favorite gin-based cocktail?
I am a gin fan. I like having a Negroni or a 50/50.
What is one thing you wish people understood about bartending?
That it is not an easy job. Is it fun, absolutely! Bartending takes commitment, continual education and a real dedication to the craft.
What's your favorite drink to make behind the bar?
Since I do enjoy a good old fashioned, I love making them or different types of variations. What's next for you?
To watch Counterpoint grow and our company to grow with the possibility of opening more restaurants and bars.
What should everyone stock in their home bar?
A good bourbon or mezcal.
What do you do in your spare time when you're not creating cocktails?
I like checking out other bars and restaurants around town and in other cities to see what cool stuff other people are doing, plus it's good inspiration.
830 25th St., Suite #100, Golden Hill. (619) 564-6722 or counterpointsd.com
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