In the stylish Atlanta neighborhood of Buckhead, it can be difficult for a restaurant to stand out from the pack. Seven Lamps manages to do just that, with outstanding food, a killer atmosphere, and a cocktail menu to match. We chatted with Vinnie Dugan, the restaurant's Beverage Director, about his inadvertent start in the industry, his hospitality widsom, and cereal-inspired cocktails (don't knock it 'til you try it). He'll also share the recipe for his spicy Honey Habanero cocktail - The Irrational!
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF…
My name is Vinnie Dugan, and I’m the Beverage Director at Seven Lamps in Buckhead. I’ve been bartending for 13 years now, with the last two of them at Seven Lamps.
What first got you behind the bar?
I got pulled into the restaurant industry by my brother when I was 18. He always talked about how great the money was and how high-paced it was. Once I started in the industry, I kind of fell into bartending by accident. I was working at the Woodruff Arts Center doing event bartending, and the bartender quit at the restaurant (Twelve Eighty) so they asked me to come work.
Any pro-tips for someone starting out behind the bar?
I would suggest finding someone to study under and learn everything you can from them. Try not to forget who you are making drinks for, and don’t be scared of making something that tastes bad. I still make things that I don’t like all the time.
Favorite drink made by someone else?
I don’t have a specific drink so much as a specific person. Brent Hesse from Deep End is someone who I respect, and I think we have similar tastes. I always love tasting his stuff and seeing what he is doing.
Favorite drink that you make?
I’m a huge garbage person, so I love cocktails that remind me of my childhood and growing up poor in the south. We currently have a cocktail made with Cocoa Puffs, milk, bourbon, cognac and chicory liquor called the Breakfast of Champions. I love the way it tastes, and it immediately transports me to my childhood. It’s clever and light-hearted. I try not to take myself too seriously, and I like to think my cocktails reflect that attitude.
Favorite thing to drink when no one’s looking?
Diet Mountain Dew is the single greatest soda ever made. I love the stuff.
If you had to pick one cocktail ingredient to use for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
Sugar would probably be the one ingredient that I’d use for the rest of my life. Sugar is such a vital part of what I do behind the bar. There’s so many different types, so many different uses, so many different flavors. Sugar is a flavor enhancer in that when used correctly, it enhances the flavor of the other ingredients in the cocktail.
What’s your favorite part about working at your bar?
I really am blessed that I work where I do. I have the creative freedom to pursue whatever I see fit for our beverage program. I work under chefs Conor O’Reilly and Drew Van Leuvan, two of the most talented and creative minds in the city who are always willing to help me with ideas and techniques. I have a truly amazing group of guests who come in just to see what I’m up to with new drinks and ideas. To pinpoint one thing that is my favorite about where I work would really be impossible.
Where do you like to stop in for a drink?
Deep End in Atlanta is probably my favorite spot. The tacos are great and he always has cool drinks on the menu.
What’s your take on today’s cocktail culture in your city?
Atlanta’s cocktail culture has come so far in the past five years, and so many places have great cocktail programs. Tons of new bars are popping up all over the place with really great ideas and cocktails.
Give us your golden rule when it comes to bar etiquette.
My golden rule for bar etiquette is don’t be an asshole - and that rule applies to bartenders and guests.
What’s your favorite way to drink Belle Isle?
My favorite way to drink Belle Isle is in a slushie - they work so well in our machine.
Take two quarts of simple syrup and place in a saucepan over low heat, gently simmer 6 habanero peppers and 4 serrano peppers until wilted. Strain the mixture and add 5 grams of habanero powder.
1 ½ oz. Belle Isle Honey Habanero
½ oz. lime juice
1 oz. ruby red grapefruit juice
½ oz. simple syrup
½ oz. spicy syrup **
1 mint sprig torn
1 dash Angostura bitters
Shake and double strain into a coupe and garnish with a slapped mint leaf.
Recipe by Vinnie Dugan.
All photos by Kate Magee.
Need more cocktail inspo?
Belle Isle Moonshine is a premium, handcrafted spirit proudly hailing from Richmond, Virginia.
We take the name Belle Isle from a small, 540-acre island located smack dab in the middle of the James River where Civil War soldiers used surplus corn rations to make moonshine in copper kettles.
Belle Isle Moonshine is distilled from 100% organic corn, grown by three family farms and responsibly sourced. Once triple-distilled, we charcoal filter Belle Isle four times over. Then, we cut it with purified water right from the James River. Our infusions are made with 100% real ingredients, never artificial flavors or color. We use real grapefruits sourced from Texas and California, local honey from the Shenandoah Valley, organic habaneros grown an hour away, and freshly roasted coffee beans from the most socially conscious roastery in Richmond, Blanchard's Coffee Roasting Co.
From there, each bottle of Belle Isle Moonshine is filled, corked, labeled, and packed by hand by our Production team, who check each bottle and batch for quality assurance. Since Belle Isle is made in small batches, you can find the batch number handwritten in the bottom right corner of each bottle.
Distilled from good times and 100% organic corn.