Finding inspiration from music, poetry, literature, and art, Mark Cooney creates award winning cocktails and serves them up with homespun Detroit charm.
The charismatic Wright & Co. bearded bartender was a regional finalist at both the prestigious Tequila Herradura Legends and Woodford Reserve Distillery’s Manhattan competitions, and was also an Ann Arbor Distillery People’s Choice Award winner. These days, he’s channeling his intellectual, aesthetic, and melodic expertise elevating the Detroit bespoke cocktail to new heights one Negroni at a time.
EXP: If you could drink one cocktail for the rest of your life what would it be?
MC: Easy – the drink that got me into doing what I do. My first real cocktail experience was at Sugar House and I had a Corpse Reviver #2. It’s a dynamic combination of gin, dry orange liquor, lemon, white wine aperitif, and a bit of absinthe. It’s the kind of cocktail that gets you to where you want to be without the hangover.
EXP: Biggest pet peeve as a bartender?
MC: The skepticism of trying something new but it’s also my favorite because I see it as a challenge.
EXP: What’s your process for creating unique and unusual libations for guests?
MC: It begins with the flavors that interest them. I try to stay away from questions like “what spirit do you like” because the spirit itself is just the canvas. I’m more interested in other preferences like dry, sweet, or herbaceous to highlight the experience and that allows me to paint.
EXP: What instruments to do you play and which is your favorite?
MC: In total I play ten instruments but to name a few, the English horn, piano, guitar, oboe, and baritone saxophone. My favorite is the oboe because it’s such a personal instrument. Reeds are made by hand and the musician spends many hours trying to make them perfect. The end result is somber, cheerful, evocative, and mysterious.
EXP: As a musician, where is your favorite place in Detroit to listen to live music?
MC: If you want great live music, burlesque dancers and an entire concert series of female artists, check out Willis Show Bar. Another spot that is also embracing the music scene and where drinks are always on point is The Whisky Parlor. You also can’t go wrong with spending an evening at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra or Cliff Bells.
EXP: What is your first memory of the city?
MC: When I first moved to Detroit I remember driving into the city and seeing the skyline from the highway. I knew as a musician that the pulse of the city was going to be a great adventure for me.
EXP: What is your favorite neighborhood bar?
MC: The Bronx was the first bar I really went to in Detroit. When I first moved here you could still smoke in the place. It has a simple aesthetic and it’s a shot and a beer kind of spot. Nothing better than sipping Jameson and enjoying a burger.
EXP: Do you associate yourself more as a musician or a bartender?
MC: They are one in the same. Mark the bartender and Mark the musician is one entity that enters the room. The way I shake drinks is my rhythm, it’s the harmony in which I move behind the bar. Music translates into everything I do.