“A rising tide lifts all boats,” says Brad Coburn, founder of the Sarasota Network of Bartenders (S.N.O.B.) and co-proprietor with his partner, Executive Chef Lan Bradeen, of méLange, Pangea Lounge, and Monkey Business Sandwich Shop. The well-known quote is the philosophy behind S.N.O.B., an organization created to bring together professional bartenders from Sarasota and surrounding areas. The mission is to cultivate creativity, knowledge, camaraderie, and communication among members. Those active in the bar industry meet monthly to taste new products and discuss drink trends, recipes, and techniques.
You could say Brad was born to be in the hospitality industry. “I’ve always been in service, since 1994. It was a lucrative job then and now it’s an awesome career; I go to work to have fun.”
As young adults, both he and Lan had an appreciation for high-quality food and beverages. In Sarasota a decade or so ago, there were not many higher-end establishments geared for a younger clientele. With an innate passion for the industry, Lan and Brad saw an opportunity and spawned méLange in 2007, offering exquisite food and drink in a lounge-like, comfortable, and later-night setting. While Lan took to the kitchen, Brad’s interest was in the craft cocktail realm. Four years after opening méLange, the space next door became available and Brad set up shop with Pangea Lounge, a game changer on the cocktail scene.
Back then, just a few other area bartenders were pushing the envelope behind the bar by using egg whites and fresh fruit infusions, but nothing like what Brad brought to the table. He raised the bar—bringing the first true craft cocktail lounge to Sarasota.
They admit that they weren’t quite ready for the crowds, and the crowds’ tastes were not quite developed to truly appreciate the fine art of mixology. Ticket times for drinks were way too long, so “We became our own competition,” Brad says, to adjust and better serve the clientele. Monkey Business was born and occupied the front part of the bar, serving sandwiches, salads, soups, and ramen, while Pangea moved into the back half of the space in an intimate, and nearly hidden, setting.
Brad corrects that image Pangea, saying, “We’re not a speakeasy. We have crappy beer and vodka and if the guest wants it, we’ll make their Manhattan with cherry juice and shake it.” While the passion, knowledge, and expertise is there turning out properly crafted drinks, at Pangea there’s no pretense, no rules, which is Brad’s intent.
In S.N.O.B., a community was created for area bartenders to network, learn, and most importantly have fun. These gatherings are hosted in one of the members’ establishments and a distributor rep brings in a product for them to learn about, practice their skills inventing their own creations, and provide a little friendly competition with an “Iron Chef”–like contest, while building networks and friendships. It’s important to Brad and he’s passionate about continuing this camaraderie and sense of community, bringing fun and modesty to the industry. There’s irony in the name—it’s anything but snobbery.