The list of reasons that the Century Bar is one of the best bourbon bars in the country is a long one. It starts with the well-curated whiskey collection, brought together by the staff over the years. Everything from daily sippers to rare bottles saved for special occasions. Once that was assembled, they began a cocktail program that is one of the best in the city. Not only are they making specialty cocktails, they are making the syrups, shrubs, and bitters that go in it. They are doing the research to revive some of the classic, lesser known libations and creating some modern delights. They use local ingredients and spirits when they are able, building an impressive library of recipes. Even the atmosphere feels like you have stepped out of Dayton and into a little pocket where time stopped just before Prohibition. The back bar is over 150 years old, and has been sitting in that building for the last eighty years.
The most important differentiator, however, is the staff. Joe Head, co-owner of this fine establishment, has established a system that makes sure the bartenders employed there know more about liquor and cocktails than anyone walking through that door. They can tell you the history of any of the bottles they grab off that elegant back bar, right down to the best way to enjoy it. It is possible they can discuss the actual tree the barrel was made from. One of these bartenders, Jerrod Claytor, knows as much as anyone else about what is going on behind that bar.
Jerrod, like many bartenders, followed a wandering path to get to be in one of the more coveted bartender gigs in Dayton. He started off working towards a job in the finance sector, filled with its own unique perils. When he discovered that was not the right fit for him, he started to explore other career options in the Miami Valley. When the Century made its transition from a dive bar to a bourbon house, Jerrod was one of the first people they brought in to help with their expanded hours and new direction. He has been part of this new chapter since almost day one, and it looks like he is going to be there for a long time.
How did you get into bartending?
I started serving and bartending 15 years ago after college. Frankly, it gave me an opportunity to meet lots of people, make fair money, and have the freedom to pursue other endeavors. It wasn’t, yet, a career choice. The more experienced I gained (at one point I worked at four locations) and more responsibilities I was given, I realized this path was apt for me and my personality. I now feel both incredibly fortunate and comfortable to be working alongside such professional people who’ve walked this path with me. Not too many people can say they work with their family and best friends in a nationally recognized bar.
What is your favorite drink to make?
Well-executed classics are great. I am always happy making a simple old-fashioned. It’s a no-fail and for some, a gateway to bourbon and whiskey (my love). I make Manhattans mostly at home.
Which drink makes you internally cringe?
I honestly love cocktails and drink just about anything myself, so I don’t discriminate. I suppose I may internally roll my eyes when folks still order chilled shots or shot backs. Just seems unnecessary.
Do you have a favorite spirit you like to work with?
Aside from bourbon and whiskey, I really find cognacs, brandies, and their variations highly versatile and tasty.
When you go out for a drink in Dayton, where is your favorite place to go?
Breweries, restaurants, etc. I really enjoy quiet afternoons on days off at small family bars.
Who is the most famous person you have served?
I served Arlo Guthrie once. I thought that was pretty cool. I had a room full of astronauts including every one of the first moon-landers. I still get goosebumps when I think of that. Surprisingly, the nicest celebrities I’ve served were Donahue and Arnold Palmer.
What do you do when you are not bartending?
Relaxing, cooking, backpacking, cycling, pseudo art projects, and of course, drinking.
What are your favorite trends from the last year?
The emergence of more high-end rums, mezcals, and the continuing validity of handmade or fresh ingredients in bars and restaurants.
What trends do you see coming to Dayton over the next six months?
More availability of unique whiskey blend and finishes, along with Eurasian malts (Americans curiosity is swiftly fueling these).
What advice do you want to give bartenders just getting into the business?
Be patient, pay your dues, and work hard. Never sit on your hands, keep your mind open and continually learn. Of course, take pride in your work. Oh, don’t make it snooty either.
What do you love most about Dayton?
Dayton is culturally my kind of city – historically and philosophically. It fits my personality. I transplanted here over 20 years ago and it’s always felt like home.
Most interesting thing you have seen from behind the bar?
How has bartending changed in the time you have been in the industry?
Generally, the refocus on quality spirits and ingredients as opposed to synthetic and faux martinis. I think it’s mostly an extension of this generation’s ability to eat better. They also want to drink better!
What do you wish customers knew that helped you do your job?
There’s really no need to start a tab for one drink.
If you were not a bartender, what career would you be pursuing?
Something with plants. Maybe I’d have a greenhouse or something. Don’t really know. I never liked jobs.