There’s more to being a bartender than just pouring an excellent Tom Collins. After speaking with Dakota and Sierra from the Fort Collins Academy of Bartending, it’s clear that passion, dedication, and smart thinking make up the best bartenders in our town and not only that: they’ll teach you how to be one.
In this week's blog, Old Town Food Tour dives more into how the two owners and instructors of the Fort Collins Academy of Bartending got their start, why they believe the perfect martini has magical qualities, and the most important lessons a student needs to take away before they start serving.
Who: Dakota Montez and Sierra Montez, owners and instructors of the Fort Collins Academy of Bartending.
We provide expert level education while giving our students all the care and attention you would expect from a family run business.
How did you get your start at the academy? Was there a favorite work environment in your past that encouraged you to teach others how to craft cocktails?
Dakota: The Fort Collins Academy of Bartending was founded in 2012 by Gina Maez. Gina is an expert bartender with most of her experience being in Las Vegas. I took the bartending 101 in 2015 and Gina quickly became a close friend and mentor. After many years of working at the academy, my sister and I became the owners in January of 2020.
Over the years, I have worked in many environments: high volume nightclubs, music venues, craft cocktail bars, event bartending, you name it. I immediately fell in love with the art of the cocktail and I learned something different from every environment I worked in. I have always been passionate about teaching and so this was the perfect way to combine both of my passions and share that knowledge with our community.
Sierra: I will never forget when Dakota took the class and would come home with notecards and be constantly studying his drink recipes. A few years later, shortly after I graduated high school, our founding owner was training Dakota to teach the classes. We were roommates at the time and he asked if I would be interested in taking his class. I got to be one of his very first students and since that day, our lives have changed.
I was 18 years old when I became a certified bartender through the academy and knew I would have to work my way up to an actual bartending position. I had learned that Fuzzy's Taco Shop was going to be opening at a new location. I absolutely loved the environment there and was determined to be part of the team. I became a barback at the new location and the bartenders I had the opportunity to work with taught me the importance of teamwork and teaching. I observed their personas and how they portrayed themselves to guests and soaked in as much knowledge from them as I possibly could.
“I immediately fell in love with the art of the cocktail, and I learned something different from every environment I worked in.”
What is your favorite drink to make? Is it the same as your favorite drink to drink?
Dakota: My favorite drink to make is also my personal favorite drink, and that is the martini. The martini is special because every person likes their martinis different, and if you do it right, you have built a relationship forever. From the driest gin martinis with a citrus twist to the filthiest vodka martinis with blue cheese olives, no two martinis are exactly the same! Our logo highlights the martini glass because the martini really is the physical representation of what bartending really is, which is providing a unique experience for the customer that will leave them with a memory they will have forever.
Sierra: Mint Juleps will always hold a very special place in my heart and have become a staple drink of my career. My first actual bartending experience was at a Kentucky Derby event where Dakota and I were working at an outdoor bar together. At the beginning of the shift, he told me to make sure my Mint Juleps were perfectly proportioned because they can easily be made too sweet or just as easily, not have the right amount of sweetness. A couple of hours into the event we realized our bar line was significantly longer than some of the others and the guests were making comments about which bartenders were making the perfect Mint Juleps [and] they were rather fond of ours!
“The martini really is the physical representation of what bartending really is, which is providing a unique experience for the customer that will leave them with a memory they will have forever.”
What is one lesson you always try to impart to your students?
Dakota: Bartending is special because it is a universal skill that you will have forever and can take with you anywhere; there is a bar for everyone. In this industry, you truly get to be yourself. I teach all my students to find their own rhythm and to be the best, most honest, versions of themselves. I want all my students to leave the Academy with the skills and confidence they need to go out and find their home bar.
Sierra: As the director of social media and the one who puts our students under pressure with a camera pointed at them during speed drills, I try to impart confidence and comfort while working under pressure. At the academy we teach the students to recognize their bar as their "stage"; they are the face of the party and their every move behind the bar is noticeable and important.
What is the most important thing to remember when you're behind the bar?
Dakota: The most important thing to remember behind the bar is to NEVER over-serve. As bartenders, we have a responsibility to keep our communities safe, which is why all of our students are tested on their free pours to 100% accuracy. Our students also learn how to use a measuring tool called a Jigger to serve consistently. All our students learn that it is vital for us to create a safe and welcoming environment for our patrons while having a blast.
Sierra: FIRST: CHECK and INSPECT ALL ID's! SECOND: Every single time, always and forever POUR ACCURATELY!
“In this industry, you truly get to be yourself.”
What is your favorite part about being a part of the Fort Collins community?
Dakota: I am a Fort Collins native and was born right here at PVHS. Fort Collins is my home. My favorite part about being a part of the Fort Collins community is that it truly is a community. We have developed close relationships with the distilleries, breweries, bars, and restaurants near us. I love that we can all come together and support each other. We couldn't do it without our neighbors. Fort Collins is a small town with a big city feel and it is vibrant and full of life. Our customers quickly become regulars, and our regulars become family. We are grateful to be a part of the heart of the Fort Collins community.
Sierra: I am a Colorado native born right here in Fort Collins and I am so proud of our diverse, unique, inclusive and eventful community. Did you know Mainstreet Disneyland in California is designed to resemble our beautiful Downtown Fort Collins? To say the least, our Fort Collins community truly is magical.
Tell me about your enrollment process for future students.
Dakota: Enrollment is incredibly easy! All our students start at our Bartending 101 course. This course is $300.00 and covers the cost of tuition, materials needed for the course, and a textbook which is theirs to keep. The Bartending 101 course is 20 hours of hands-on training and enrollment occurs on a rolling basis. This course does fill quickly because we like to keep our class sizes small so every student gets a one-on-one education and will spend about 75% of the course directly behind the bar. Simply call us at 1-855-970-4TIP to enroll in our next available course.
We want to thank Dakota and Sierra for sharing their experiences with us and encourage you to use the above information to sign up for classes if you are interested. Don’t forget to book an Old Town Food Tour on our homepage to fully experience the sights, eats, and—of course—drinks that the Choice City has to offer!