Behind the pine with Joey Smith
A millennial bartender who respects traditions
Photos by Stephen Gabris
Name: Joey Smith
Nickname: Joey Poland
Current Title: Program mentor, fun ambassador, bartender
Restaurant: Panorama on 7 at Marriott Harborcenter
95 Main Street, Buffalo; 716.852.0049; panoramaonseven.com
Years behind the pine: 10
Previous experience: USMC
Joey Smith is one of the most endearing and polarizing figures in Buffalo’s bar scene. A former Jack-and-coke bartender, Smith earned his craft cocktail stripes at Buffalo Proper during its launch. When asked about his time behind the pine, he’s quick to cite the many unglamorous roles he’s played over the years: mop technician, fruit ninja, daiquiri factory, menu designer, proud bar team dad—“I honestly can’t think of a job I haven’t done behind a bar,” he says.
Since its unveiling, Smith can be found at the seriously swanky Panorama on 7, creating cocktails for hotel guests and those smart enough to stop in for a perfectly made classic and one of the best views in the city.
Many of those in the local bar community know Smith for his incredibly affable nature, and they’re not wrong, but one of the most surprising things about Smith is his philosophical and often controversial take on life, people, and bartending. He openly shares his views on social media, spurring thought and provoking discussion among the very diverse group of people who follow him. He’s young, there’s no doubt, but Smith successfully finds himself standing beside generations of barmen before him, barmen who also gracefully and humbly assumed the role of ad hoc therapist, confessor, and confidante to patrons of all kinds.
What’s your favorite style of cocktail?
Stirred cocktails are great. They just sort of do this really beautiful dance all the way from pour to palate.
What sets your bar program at Panorama apart?
I actively recruit people with little to no experience who can transition comfortably into Marriott culture, but who will also extend the type of hospitality that makes the guest forget they’re in a hotel (unless we have a cool reason to point it out). If you look at an establishment as a whole, people are often the most important part, so my philosophy is to get the right ones and take care of them.
If someone was only ever going to have one chance to visit your bar, what would you suggest they have or do to enjoy themselves best?
Date night. Come on a weekend when there aren’t events booked into KeyBank Center, Canalside, or the other waterfront venues. Weekends are more intimate than weeknights when it’s all business people. Pony up to the bar and order some cocktails. The bartenders are always working on new stuff. Hang out until sunset. Then head over to the soft seating, order a bottle of wine and some apps to share, and just look out at the view. Soak up the ambiance and the service. Most importantly, let us help you enjoy your time.
Is there an ingredient you are particularly enamored with right now?
I like turning beers into simple syrups for cocktails or cordials. It’s a fun way to get beer lovers interested in cocktail service. They’re generally open to new things and they often feel so out of place at cocktail bars that it’s a good way to build a connection.
What reading or film would you recommend to someone who wants to learn more about bartending:
I always recommend “A Clean, Well-lighted Place,” by Hemingway. It really speaks to the different types of people you encounter in this industry, our life cycles, and most importantly, hospitality.
Is there a big creative/artistic influence for you that comes from outside of the bar/hospitality world?
I’m pretty good with a pencil. Something about a sketchbook and the right music just makes the world vanish for a bit. It’s so easy to get caught up in work that it’s important to find things that help you center yourself.
What does your future look like?
Hopefully consulting and still physically capable of pulling a shift or two to keep up with the new generation. Mostly I just want to be in a position to pass down the craft and practice as well as I’m able.
Favorite after-work snack:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fruit snacks.
Death row drink:
That’s heavy. I don’t know if I could decide. I might have to see a death row menu.
Best meal you’ve had this year:
My parents cooked for me on Easter. There was lots of Polish food and love.