Josh Gilbert fell in love with the bar business by accident. While studying at the University of Georgia, with aspirations of walking on as a UGA golfer, he began bartending at Uptown Lounge in downtown Athens and was smitten. "I decided I needed to own a bar," Gilbert says. "This was my calling — to make money helping people have fun."
In the subsequent years he'd sling beers and cocktails in countless establishments, learning the details of the business while chatting up many an inebriated patron. Fast-forward to the summer of 2010, when he moved to Atlanta to focus on golf again. As luck would have it, he ended up living in the same neighborhood as his old friend Alan Sher, who was about to become co-owner of a new music venue on the Westside, Terminal West. "I told him I had to help," Gilbert says.
And help he did, serving as TW's director of bar operations. While he doesn't run his own place just yet, he has curated the best beer list of any music venue in Atlanta. In addition to a few usual-suspect macros, the King Plow-affiliated spot sports a handful of cocktails and 34 canned microbrews, including offerings from notable craft breweries such as 21st Amendment, Oskar Blues, Avery, New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, and many more. CL recently talked to Gilbert about what got him here and why he decided to make Terminal West an Atlanta beer destination.
Describe your first beer experience.
My first beer experience was actually with a high school bandmate of mine, Victor Esquerra, when we snuck into an open window in his neighborhood's pool clubhouse after band practice and found Sierra Nevada Pale Ales in the refrigerator. They were so bitter! My 15-year-old palate had much room to grow.
Where is your favorite place to have a beer in Atlanta?
It's a tie. First, the helipad at the W Hotel Downtown at sunset in the winter when rush hour is visible below on the Connector — all the headlights, taillights, and colors of our Atlanta sunsets are just mind-blowing. Such a good spot to find Zen status.
Second, the shift beer after a long night of being a part of a show's success. Seeing bodies dancing, faces beaming beautiful smiles, and witnessing the movement growing on the Westside as more and more happy people walk in and out of our venue. The calm after the storm has not stopped being surreal. I love that feeling.
What was the thought process behind Terminal's West's stunning beer list?
The best selection isn't exactly what I was going for, but sort of. I wanted to take what I have seen in music venues and turn it up a notch. I desire for this bar to be a destination. Not beyond the music, by any means — that is first. But I always try to put myself in a showgoer's shoes and imagine what would make the experience that much more amazing.
Why don't more music venues offer creative beer selections?
I have no idea! I am sure that it is much easier to manage an inventory that has fewer selections, but I wanted to be different. And better. I wanted to have a beer for everyone. I hope that everyone finds a beer that they have never tried, seen, or heard of. If not, I hope that they can find a love for canned beer and the quality that it provides.
Also, it had a lot to do with my vision for the bars at Terminal West. I desire to introduce high-speed quality mixology to the bars here so that customers can have a super-awesome cocktail, but also by having a large beer selection, it counteracts the large liquor/cocktail selection so that the drinker doesn't feel obligated to order a mixed drink or a fancy speciality cocktail.