Meet Pusser’s Rum Bartender on Deck Michael Fitzgerald

Michael Fitzgerald of The Refuge in Isle of Palms, South Carolina

Please tell me about yourself. What is your background, and how did you end up as a bartender?
I grew up just outside of NYC and spent most of my childhood  at a certain famous conservatory attempting to be a concert pianist. When that didn’t pan out, I tried my hand as a chef, selling grilled cheese sandwiches at Grateful Dead concerts (yes, I wore a toque). After that I figured I should move to LA and try my hand at Rock n roll….so I opened a kite shop in Marina del Rey. Somehow I found myself flying kites in movies, tv shows and commercials….Go figure…
A few near misses at stardom later, I removed myself back to the east coast, got a degree in political theory at the University of Virginia and was about to spend the following 3 years immersed in law school when some “friend” of mine asked me to open a bar. …So I did. 
Now I find myself living the beach life in Charleston — at The Refuge in Isle of Palms mostly. Creating cocktails and finding any excuse to  utilize drink umbrellas.

Biggest achievement you personally feel you have accomplished for the spirits industry?
The best part is when one of your favorite old bar patrons messages you on Facebook from St. John, asking for your painkiller recipe. Then there are all the former bartenders I’ve mentored that hated me so much then for being such a pain in the ass, but realize now I may not have been 100% insane at the time and may have even had a point…well, maybe.

What made you fall in love with spirits and when did it happen?
It was late and I was drunk…

What is that thing that makes you want to continue in the spirits industry?
I always loved restaurants and fancied myself a chef as a child. I never went to cooking school and always regretted it. But I’ve found that if you treat the bar as a kitchen, you’re behaving as a chef. That kind of discipline might seem anathema to the bar lifestyle, but I believe it leads one to constantly  strive to elevate their craft.

Favorite Drink & Recipe?
That drink I just winged that made the birthday girl blush. I think it had Pusser’s in it. Definitely  had crushed ice and an umbrella…

Signature Cocktail: Painkiller
Pusser’s Rum
Fresh Tangerine
Fresh Pineapple
Coco Real

Signature Cocktail: The Remedy
Pusser’s Gunpowder Proof Rum
Galliano Ristretto
Espresso Porter Reduction
Hoodoo Chickory
Allspice Dram and Cream

Where do you see the cocktail industry today and in the next 5 years?
I’m seeing it becoming more frivolous: a return to cocktails that make people smile and maybe even feel a little younger. I created a cocktail that recently elicited more than a dozen “remember when you were a kid?…” responses. …as if you were watching that great movie, Ratatouille. We need more of that I think.

Who are some of your mentors and how have they helped you?
My Piano Teacher, Edgar Roberts, who I tend to think imbued me with the  sense of balance I strive for when I’m creating any cocktail.

What 3-5 things do you have on your bucket list for the next 12 months?
Learn to kiteboard, Lock myself in a room with a Steinway B for 3 or 4 days…and take a week off from work.

Any last words?
No matter what anyone says, I am not Tom Petty. 

How can people learn more about you? Website? Social Media Page?
Instagram (michaelwfitzgerald); or check out The Refuge Facebook page