Behind the Bar with Jon Seelbinder

Published Thu, Jun 14, 2012 05:00 AM
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Jon Seelbinder from The Architect Bar And Social House. Photo by Peter Musser

Submitted by Melissa Howsam — Correspondent

The brains behind the blueprint for the newer-to-the-scene sexy social house, The Architect, longtime Raleigh 'tender, bar manager and owner has sketched the perfect nightspot. Devised with GM John Martinez (who also moonlights at popular proximate pub Raleigh Times Bar), the ‘draftsmen’ have “put a heavy focus on the high-profile beer list,” says Seelbinder, who goes by "Seel," and have designed a complementary cocktail concept (and cocktails) unlike any other in the state.

With a pretty standard start — Seel initiated his work in the industry to pay his way through college — the N.C. State grad with a degree in industrial engineering (and a minor in business “for fun” — shocker), instead, found his niche in nips and a slew of sip spots across town for the last dozen-ish years, and, now, in engineering the future of nightclubs, and breaking the mold, with his first solo project.

When he’s not mingling with bar guests or mapping what’s next for new-age mixology (molecular gastronomy, anyone?) find the fusion-mastermind on his fave guilty pleasure … “a trip out west to ski and snowboard,” he muses. And, harboring a fascination for airplanes, he’s also working towards his private pilot license. Could the crafty concept-eur fly any higher? Our money’s on yes — but might as well pull up a seat (and a hand-crafted cocktail) and come along for the ride.


Hometown: North Carolina born and raised — but I have lived all over the state. I also lived in Colorado for four years. But I was born in the [North Carolina] mountains (Spruce Pine), grew up at the beach (Wilmington), graduated from high school 45-minutes west (Mebane), and have been in Raleigh for 13 years. Raleigh is my home now.

Where it all began: I started way back in 1999 at the Flagstaff House Restaurant in Boulder, Colo.! I was attending CU at the time and needed the money. In Colorado, I [was a] ski instructer and starting working in the bar/restaurant scene.

Other sip spots in the Triangle you've worked: I have opened and worked at a number of different concepts here in Raleigh ... some of which are still around, some are not! I was part of the staff that opened The Flying Saucer, Rush Lounge, The Office Nightclub and Still Life Nightclub. I have worked at PF Chang's, Sullivan's, The Old Bar, Ess Lounge, Havana Deluxe, Aura and The Oxford. I joined the team at The Mint Restaurant as an owner in 2010 and am pleased to announce my first solo project, The Architect Bar and Social House!

You're the man with the plan behind The Architect (with John Martinez). What led to the brilliant blueprint? Well, when we saw the space, the place was in extremely poor condition but the potential was endless. If you ever look up at the ceiling or look at a satellite view of our address, you'll notice an enormous skylight in the shape of an arrow. The building had been a bar since 1991 but prior to that, it was an architect's office. The arrow was placed to point to the desk of the architect. Ego? Love It! The building was originally built in 1922 and has a ton of character. As we pulled away old sheetrock and insulation, we found beautiful brick walls and even windows that had been covered for decades. It was my vision to create a space that had a synergy with the historic business neighborhood while adding some comfortable, yet stylish, elements. The design of drink menus, décor and appeal has all centered around our name.

The Architect is mixing cocktails not available anywhere else in the state. Give us the low-down: We are using a process called molecular gastronomy to make drinks that you can actually serve on a spoon. This process started in the culinary world and then became very popular in the mixology profession.

These methods enable the creation of greater intensities and varieties of flavor, flavor combinations and different ways of presenting drinks, for example using gels, powders, foams, atomised sprays etc. … as well as affecting the appearance of the cocktail. The Art of Drink website suggests that the earliest example of what we now call molecular mixology is the long-established bartending practice of layering ingredients in cocktails. This experimentation with the density and viscosity of fluids uses the principles of scientific investigation that are fundamental to molecular mixology.

Or as we like to call it “Shooters for Sophisticated Grown-Ups.”

The Architect in three words: Inviting, sophisticated, yet fun.

What the savvy Social House brings to the downtown bar scene: I feel that we have created a dynamite space that will only get better over time! We wanted a bar and social house. Therefore, the focus is on the beer menu, the cocktail development, the music and, most importantly, the people. We are already booking engagement parties, wedding events and corporate functions. The weekends are a little busier than we had expected because people are beating down the door to hear our DJ and to dance. Our long-term vision is that we can establish The Architect as a go-to event space in the downtown area.

Fave thing about the Triangle: I just can't explain how excited I am about the growth that I have seen in the past decade. ... We have such a rich environment to work and play in. People’s attitudes are becoming more and more optimistic, and change is being more widely accepted. Raleigh is becoming a wonderful place to do business, and I am thankful to be a part of it.

On your iPod? Everything ... literally. Country, electronic, decades of rock, hip-hop and even some classical.

Your app addiction: SoundHound — it’s an app that listens to songs and tells you what they are. Anytime I hear a song that I want to hear again, I pull the app up and let it do the work for me!

Must-drink: Jack Daniels and Coke, or Dos Equis Lager ... boring I know. I have tons of other go-to's, but if it was an ultimatum, then ... I guess I'll keep it simple.

Pleats and polos, love 'em or leave 'em? They have their place... (smiles).

Your ladylove? Yes I do have a lady in my life; we have a blast together. Her name is Lauren.

For kicks, you... Drive fast, sing in the shower, dance when no one’s looking and other things that people laugh at.

Your life's current soundtrack: Anything Jay-Z.

Fav place to grub: Sushi Blues ... I’ve been going there for 10 years; it was there when there were no other sushi bars downtown. I still like to see the familiar faces!

Best part about being behind the bar? Entertaining ... you are definitely on stage. I like to watch people say, "WOW" and get them to smile. It's very rewarding. Our customer/clientele is our most valuable asset. Customer service is a dead art in a lot of businesses these days, but it such a valuable tool to your business!

The advice you wish you could give thirsty patrons: Saying "I've been waiting 20 minutes for a drink" is not gonna get you service. Watch for the bartender and pay attention; he/she is very methodical on how they are moving down the line ... courtesy will get courtesy from most professionals. And, remember, the bartender doesn't come into your job waiving their hand in your face saying, "Hey, hey, hey, hey, can I get some service!"

On a serious note, we all love what we do for the most part and love sharing that passion with our clientele. Our biggest compliment is guests that continue to come back. However, 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays is a very stressful time behind the bar!

The Architect Bar And Social House

108 1/2 East Hargett Street

Raleigh, NC, 27601

Phone: 919.833.4949

Facebook: click here

Twitter: @architectbar


Jon says come to The Architect because...

"My lifelong goal is to serve as many people as humanly possible and stop at nothing to make sure they leave with a smile on their face! An impossible goal maybe, but we want our customers to love their bar. Fingers crossed ... so far people seem to LOVE The Architect Bar and Social House!"

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