Douglas Tirola's "Hey Bartender," a documentary about the evolution of the bartender in the era of the craft cocktail, isn't a watered-down tale of fancy drinks.
It has the kind of emotional substance that every good documentary needs.
Tirola touches on the lighter side of mixology through peeks behind the bar at nightspots from major cities to small communities.
What gives this documentary its kick is a more serious examination of people who have embraced the world for extremely different reasons. Not since the first mixing of gin and tonic has there been such a strong blend.
The lighter part of the documentary shows how some bartenders become rock stars both in the drinks they create and their presentation. There are seminars and conventions to trumpet the virtues of having a mix master behind the bar.
Giving "Hey Bartender" an edge are the stories of Steve Schneider, an ex-Marine turned mixologist, and Steve Carpentieri, a former City Group vice president who left the corporate world to run his neighborhood bar in Westport, Conn.
Schneider was headed toward a career in the Marine Corps as an intelligence specialist until he suffered a head injury before he could be shipped to Afghanistan.
When his military career ended, Schneider began a career behind the bar that has earned him international fame.
Despite Schneider's success mixing drinks, Tirola manages to show the pain and suffering that seems to haunt the ex-Marine about a life path that he wasn't allowed to take.
Carpentieri's story has a larger context, looking at his struggle to keep a corner restaurant and bar open. His battle is reflective of the small business world, where owners try to hang on until the economy rebounds.
It means making some tough decisions for the bar owners.
Tirola delivers the stories through a film style that's as glitzy as any Manhattan nightclub, but as inviting as the corner bar. He manages to keep personal stories going while revealing the long history of mixology. The personal stories keep this first-rate production from becoming predictable and tedious.
The documentary is scheduled to run today through Aug. 1 at the Sierra Vista Cinemas 16 in Clovis.
This will be the only time you can have this much fun with mixed drinks and not need a designated driver.
"Hey Bartender," Unrated. Stars Steve Schneider, Steve Carpentieri, Jim Meehan, Charlotte Voisey. Directed by Douglas Tirola. Running time: 92 minutes. Grade: B
Theaters and times
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.