CAPITAL DISTRICT When George Fiorini moved to Albany a year ago, he had only five months of bartending experience under his belt. Winner of the recent Woodford Reserve bartending competition held at the Albany Food and Wine Festival early this month, Fiorini now bartends at two of Albany’s premiere cocktail bars and, sitting in one of them – Wellington’s in Albany – exactly a year to the day after he moved to the area, he seems more than a little surprised about it.
“I prefer to be called a bartender,” said the 25-year-old, saying that he finds the term “mixologist” to be just a bit pretentious. Remembering the first bartender to teach him the art in St. Louis a year and a half ago, he said, “I’ll never forget what he told me. He told me that I would be learning a lot of crazy things-a lot of different ingredients, techniques and stuff like that-but, at the end of the day, I’m a bartender. If someone wants a vodka and Red Bull, because that’s their favorite drink, then I’m going to make them the best vodka and Red Bull they’ve ever had. I keep that in the back of my mind every single day.” He’s not kidding. If you order a vodka and red bull from Fiorini, there’s a good chance he’ll set it on fire.
Fiorini moved from the Midwest, he said, “for a pretty girl.” While that relationship ultimately didn’t work out (take note, ladies), he says he owes her a debt for bringing him out here. “I would never have imagined being on the East Coast and doing the things that I’m doing. The past year has been pretty insane.” Sitting in a comfortable alcove at Wellington’s on Jan. 20, Fiorini recalls the day, exactly a year ago, that he arrived in Albany. “There was that huge blizzard and here I was, trying to look professional and find a job while walking around in five-degree weather getting blasted with wind and snow.” He couldn’t wear a hat, he said, because he didn’t want to mess up his hair.
After a false start at McGuire’s on Lark Street, Fiorini found a job at Publick House 42. “It’s a little Irish pub and the people who come in there are mainly scotch and whiskey drinkers, but every once in a while there would be someone looking for a cocktail and I would take advantage of that and I would make them a cocktail in that bar.” That’s how he heard about Speakeasy 518, he said. Someone recommended that he check it out and, after some preliminary research on Yelp, he decided he had to go.