Charlie Hughes is just as much a fixture of Richmond’s bar culture as the bar he currently calls home: The Tobacco Company. A cornerstone of Shockoe Bottom’s happy hour and weekend scene, TTC has been serving up drinks, dining, and dancing since 1978. We caught up with Charlie during the quiet time before the storm of a Thursday shift to talk about what it takes to keep up with hundreds of thirsty patrons each night.
How long have you been bartending and how did you get into it?
I’ve been bartending for seventeen years. It’s been so long I couldn’t really tell you how I got into it. Let’s go with: I woke up one day and was pouring drinks.
Favorite part about working at Tobacco Company?
For me, it’s always been about the people. I think any bartender would agree that to cut it in this business you have to be a people person. I love getting to meet and talk with all different kinds of customers, and at The Tobacco Company I get everyone from bankers to bachelorette parties in front of my bar. But this is also a great place because of the people who work here. It can get pretty cramped behind the front bar upstairs, so I guess it’s good we all get along.
What makes the bar unique?
The Tobacco Company is a big place and it is regularly filled with customers from all walks of life who are drinking everything from beer to cocktails. The crowds we see on an average Friday and Saturday night are pretty spectacular. And thirsty. It’s pretty much non-stop from when the sun goes down until closing. There aren’t many places in Richmond that are doing the kind of volume we do here
What does it take to make it through a Friday shift at The Tobacco Company?
I’d say keeping up requires the right blend of skill and speed. Oh, and organization. You have to be organized or else you’ll fall behind quickly. If a big group comes in and they all order drinks they’re not going to want to wait five minutes per drink. As a bartender I challenge myself to serve drinks that are tasty but simple enough that I can make them fast. That’s why I made the Cosmo and Margarita for you today. Just a few simple, but fresh ingredients, shaken and poured.
The other important thing about working here or at any high volume bar is consistency. I might make 500 drinks on a shift, but each one has to be up to our standard. For the customer, it has to taste good. Basically, you need to be able to find order in chaos.
Cocktail you hope people ask for?
My goal is to help make cocktails accessible for everyone. I like making traditional cocktails - a few ingredients in the shaker. Plus, I think customers like seeing a bit of spectacle beyond just pouring spirit into a glass and adding mixer with a soda gun.
Favorite cocktail to sip on when no one is looking?
The Mind Bender! No further comment.
Favorite bartender in town?
Amy Quidley, duh, and not just because she’s my girlfriend.
Favorite menu item & cocktail pairing?
This goes to the Tobacco Company’s overall classic vibe: the 8 oz filet with a rye Manhattan. Just feels like the right thing to have in our dining room.
- 2 oz. Belle Isle Ruby Red Grapefruit
- 1 oz. Triple Sec
- Squeeze of fresh lime
- Splash of fresh grapefruit juice
Add ingredients into cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously, strain into chilled martini glass.
- 2 oz. Belle Isle Honey Habanero
- 1 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
Add ingredients into cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously, strain into chilled highball glass (salt rim optional), serve with lime wedge.