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Take (Almost) 5: Sam Nelis

Sam Nelis Photo by Matt Hogan

Bar manager Sam Nelis of the recently opened Waterworks Food and Drink in Winooski talked with Vermont Life's food editor, Melissa Pasanen, about finding his craft and helping bring the landmark restaurant space into the 21st century. This is an abbreviated version of the interview that appeared in the Summer 2015 issue.

VL: How did you get into this business?
SN: My parents are Belgian and Italian-Canadian. We lived all over when I was a kid: Ecuador, Pakistan, Macedonia. I was in my first year of college in Greece when I met my wife, who is from Vermont. We moved here and I needed a job while I finished college. I got a job at a high-volume bar in Burlington and then became a bartender.

VL: What do you like most about your work?
SN: The combination of creativity and the social aspect and being on my feet work for me. It?s always different, always changing. I studied cultural anthropology in college, and I think it?s fascinating how restaurants develop their own character.

VL: How did you approach creating the bar menu at Waterworks?
SN: To develop the [cocktail] menu, I pulled on the history of the mill, what the workers might have been drinking, historic drinks like the Sherry Cobbler. One of our biggest sellers, our Old Fashioned Mill No. 4, features a Vermont barrel-aged gin and is named after this mill building, which was the fourth textile mill built in town.

VL: Why do you think craft cocktails are so hot?
SN: I think it?s a reaction to coming out of the dark ages of the 1960s through 1980s, the time of processed foods, microwave frozen TV dinners, and bottled sour mix on the soda gun at the bar. The ?90s brought back local, craft food. Then it turned to craft beer: fresh beer from smaller brewers, not mass-produced. And then cocktails came back around. It?s like we?re back in the 1800s in a way, when everything was fresh-squeezed because that?s all you had.

Interview by Melissa Pasanen, photo by Matt Hogan.

To Do in June

Queen City Ghostwalk, a walking tour of the mysteries of Burlington, which includes tales of Champ and the local ghosts. Fairly family-friendly, although it begins a bit later in the evening. 8 p.m., June 7, Battery Park, Burlington.

Feast with the Beasts on June 20 at Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury. Enjoy a Vermont-rich event in which you can explore the museum and dine on local dinner fare from the best of Saint J. 6 p.m., tickets required.

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Official Guide to Summer Fun!

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Take a breath, feel the sun on your face and revel in the fact that it?s summertime in Vermont!

There?s so much to see and do while the weather is warm. We?ve got you covered from arts events to food to outdoor recreation to shopping galore! Come join us and remember how fun summer can be!

Click here to see our Summer Fun Guide!

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