Chris Pashalidis heads up the specialty drink program at XFINITY Live! Philadelphia and has concocted a craft cocktail menu. He looks as though he has walked straight out of the 1940s in a light gray vested suit complete with suspenders, lavender shirt, and matching tie, bartending tools in his left breast pocket. He rolls up his sleeves to craft his original-recipe cocktails and reveals his skin art. That and the spacers in his ears betray his identity as a thirty-something of 2014.
“What can I get for you?” He strokes his beard, disclosing his affable shyness, green eyes twinkling in the dim lighting of the lounge. He waits for me and my business partner to argue about what celebrity he most resembles. “You think I look like Christian Bale? Adam Levine? Ryan Gosling? How about I just look like Chris Pashalidis?”
The debate rages as he mixes a Simo Daiquiri, one of the signature drinks he created just for XFINITY Live! VIP Lounge. “I’ve done some research. Old-school daiquiris were popular in Cuba in the 40s. Sailors drank them with Pimm’s Liqueur shaken with shaved ice. I worked on this recipe for a while, adding a little of this,” he says as he muddles a cucumber, “and a little of that.” He shakes, he pours, he adds bitters, he garnishes with a sliced cucumber, he slides the martini glass across the bar.
“It smells refreshing. So crisp, clean! Like summer in a glass!” A smile creeps along the corner of Chris’ mouth, barely noticeable beneath his red-tinged beard, as I appreciate his art-in-a-glass.
Next I sample the Eastside Martini, a spin on the Southside Martini that he also makes with cucumber, along with fresh mint. His final personal creation is the Mint Mango Mojito. “I don’t muddle the mint,” he explains. “Doing so crushes the flavor. Instead I massage the leaves. It opens up the mint, lets the flavor mingle with the mango instead of drowning in it.”
The Mango Mojito reminds me of the islands, and for a moment, I hear the ocean, feel the sand under my feet, and view the world in its splendor of blues and greens and whites. I hold the glass to my lips and breathe, swearing I smell the ocean breeze. Then I sip. “It’s perfectly refreshing for a hot summer night!” The impeccable bartender brings his hands together at his chest and bows.
Outside of XFINITY Live! I meet with Chris to learn more about him and his journey. As we sit on an Old City doorstep, he admits that his boss recognized his talent and brought him back to work in the XFINITY Live! VIP Lounge. When he first moved to Philly, Chris began at PBR, XFINITY Live! Philadelphia’s sports bar. Eventually, he took a job at The Franklin Mortgage and Investment Co., a speakeasy lounge in Rittenhouse Square. Chris attributes his knowledge to his co-workers at Franklin Mortgage. “I made a lot of wonderful friends who helped me define my bartending style and knowledge. They took me to a new level, professionally and personally. They are the most knowledgeable and passionate people I’ve met in this industry.”
Chris reflects on the path he has taken to get here. More than once he expresses immense regret: for the way he underachieved in school, for the way he didn’t accept advice, or lessons in bartending, or the “idiotic” choices he made on his longboard (he set aside that activity two years ago). “I was a dumb kid. Stubborn.” I contend that he merely possessed the hubris of youth and that stubborn got him to this point, but I do not convince him. He strokes his beard again—one of his tells—scratches the back of his head, looks toward the sky. I stand back and capture him in the midst of his rue. Oscar Wilde’s quote on the door behind him is fitting. We all may be in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
“Yeah,” he says, as if I’m no longer there, “but if I hadn’t been so stubborn, then maybe. . .” His words seem to offer apology for not being further advanced in his thirty-something life. He doesn’t have a college degree, a career, a house, a white-picket fence, two-point-five kids, a spouse. But do these societal expectations truly define success? Though he does not have these conventions to check off the list, he’s successful in ways that most people will never be.
Chris has been brave enough to seek for himself rather than to follow. His gumption and grit come from the core of his being, from his innate values, which perhaps come from family about whom he speaks with fierce love. “Most people don’t have the courage to spend time truly seeking what they want for their lives,” I remind him. “You do.”
He hasn’t always been an expert behind the bar. He has called Austin, Houston, Orlando, and now Philadelphia home. He has also spent time and gained wisdom in San Francisco and New Orleans. In Austin, he co-owned a tattoo and piercing shop. Also in Austin, he stumbled into Howl at the Moon, a piano bar where he hoped to find a job. “I looked like a fool,” Chris shakes his head, but then turns his eyes upward and fixes them on a far-off point in his memory or maybe on the glass windows of the building behind me across the street. “I was dressed like Brad Pitt’s character from Fight Club: shorts, a fleece hoodie, one of those hats with ear flaps, and women’s white aviator sunglasses.” He asked the manager—also named Chris who would, within a week, become his best friend—for a job. He had no experience as bartender or server, but he could fight. Thus, his career as a bouncer began. Eventually, he stepped behind the bar.
Despite the tumultuous journey, Chris is an expert in his own right. He is a creative mind, a true artist. He understands that his professors are the people he meets and his classroom is the world. Even more remarkable is that he’s audacious enough to admit that and to live as a book that is being composed daily rather than simply waking up and following a script as so many are wont to do. “I’ll be in Philadelphia for at least another year,” he says with a relaxed smile. “I’m here to learn all I can. I realize now how much I can learn from others. I don’t regret moving to different cities. They offer so much culture. There’s so much to learn from places and people. You know how a snowball rolls down a mountain and collects snow as it goes?” he circles his hands. “I feel like I’m that snowball. From every person I meet I collect something. I’m changed. I grow, whether the experience is positive or negative.”
Visit XFINITY Live! Philadelphia’s VIP Lounge for the craft cocktails by Chris Pashalidis. See www.xfinitylive.com for hours.
Staff Writer: Jann Simmons Andiamo