“Performing and bartending are similar because you are connecting with people and taking them on an experience.”
-John Scroggins, Ink & Elm bartender and performer for Big Night Dynamite
Scroggins has always been in the spotlight, he has performed for 12 years on Continental Cruise Lines, won awards as a Disney choreographer and has made appearances on ABC’s Christmas Day parade in Orlando. Now, he performs a balancing act of shaking cocktails three nights a week at Ink & Elm, and performing almost every weekend with his Georgia wedding band Big Night Dynamite. Here, we talked to him about the crossover between bartending and performing.
Motown always gets people going, whether we perform Earth, Wind and Fire or KC and Sunshine Band. But whenever we perform “Ice Ice Baby”, people go crazy. It’s ridiculous.
Is there a format that your band follows throughout the evening for your performances?
The first set is a dinner set, and that involves the special dances like the father/daughter. Then we ease people in with slow dances like “My Girl.” That gets the grandparents and kids out on the floor. But the last set is definitely more up-to-date hits. That’s when we typically see the bride and groom and the whole wedding party on stage, dancing crazy.
You’ve been bartending for 12 years now, in the staggering nightlife of South Beach and here in Midtown. How does Ink & Elm differ?
Ink and Elm follows traditional bartending. Here we are stirring and making classic cocktails, so it is more of an art. We make crafted cocktails that pair with dinner, we aren’t slinging vodka soda. People come here for an experience rather than, “we’re here to get drunk.”
What is your favorite cocktail to mix?
It’s called “Last Train to Downtown” and it’s a take on a dry Manhattan. It’s simple and has just three ingredients- dry vermouth, rye whiskey and ginger liquor. I have all the ingredients at home and make it for guests.
Ink & Elm’s culture draws on Southern traditions. How does that translate to the guest’s experience?
Our guests are always interested in experimenting. We have such an extensive list of brown spirits and wines, which allows them to choose a drink based on the question “what are you feeling tonight?” Instead of reading the menu, I can lead them down a path and open them to new flavors.
How has your background as a performer helped in bartending?
When the bar has something exciting happening, management always wants me to be the bartender because they say “oh you’re a performer.” Guests come to sit at the bar to be entertained by the bartender, not ignored. They don’t just want a drink, they want a conversation. At the bar, guests are opening their dinner table to you and they want you to take them on an experience.
You can find Scroggins at Ink & Elm Monday, Tuesday and Friday night. If you’re hoping for a solo song, he says he’s there to bartend. But he may be easily convinced.