Aaron Polsky isn’t a clairvoyant, but the timing of his first product launch—a line of ready-to-drink, bartender-created cocktails to go along with a talent agency, under the name LiveWire Drinks & Talent—comes at a moment when the hospitality industry is in desperate need of support.
Despite the growing ubiquity of canned cocktails over the past few years, Polsky noticed a void in the alcoholic aluminum universe. “Canned cocktails have lacked high-quality ingredients and bartender development,” he says. An alum of notable bars like Amor y Amargo in New York and Harvard & Stone in Los Angeles, Polsky has pivoted his career to providing a platform for bartenders to reach consumers beyond their local markets. “The goal is to enable them to monetize their intellectual capital and set themselves up for sustainable financial stability,” he says, comparing the structure of LiveWire Drinks & Talent to that of a record label. While the model is complex and varies from state to state and country to country, across the board bartenders are compensated for their intellectual property, with a target of providing substantial enough payments to become their primary source of income.
We’re now at the precipice of bartenders becoming public figures, in the same way chefs did 20 years ago.
“The bartender and creator will have the potential to go on tour to endorse their launch,” says Polsky, a lifelong rock and roll fan with an undergraduate degree in music. (LiveWire derives its name from the eponymous songs by Mötley Crüe and AC/DC.) “Consumers can taste the cocktail made-to-order at bar events, and then buy it at the store in a can; bestsellers will become part of a permanent curation.”
The agency arm of Polsky’s company provides management services to industry professionals. “We’re now at the precipice of bartenders becoming public figures, in the same way chefs did 20 years ago,” he explains. Professional representation that merges public relations with management and legal representation—tailored to fit an individual’s needs and budget—is something Polsky hopes will help bartenders achieve more economic independence. “There are prominent working bartenders employed by big bar and restaurant groups, who are only getting a dollar raise per year and aren’t being offered equity, and most of them are now on unemployment. It’s untenable,” says Polsky. His model, by comparison, works by sharing earnings. “Depending on whether clients bring the work to me for advocacy, versus if I find them work, the fee structure differs,” he explains.
The extent to which widespread bar closures (due to the COVID-19 outbreak) will affect this aspect of Polsky’s business remains unclear. “Obviously now isn’t the time for new deals and contract negotiations,” he says. “We’re focusing our efforts on putting some money back into the economy via small businesses, and donating as high a portion of our revenue as is feasible to hospitality charities like the United States Bartenders Guild’s Emergency Assistance Program.” He notes, “There’s been a lot of useful help, but I’d like to see more than a couple of million dollars from liquor conglomerates—I’d like it to at least be higher than the raise Diageo’s CEO got in 2019.”
But my dream is also that one day soon, consumers can simply go to the store to buy their favorite bartender’s newest cocktail release.
In the meantime, Polsky’s first run of bartender-created cocktails is now available for purchase. His inaugural release, Heartbreaker—a crisp, citrus-forward blend of vodka, Oro Blanco grapefruit, kumquat, jasmine and ginger—hit the market on March 20, and is now available at liquor stores in his home base of Los Angeles, including at Bar Keeper, Domaine LA and The Liquor Fountain; as a takeout and delivery option at E Stretto sandwich and wine shop; and online through K&L Wine Merchants. LiveWire is slated to debut in New York, New Jersey and Florida in April, with national expansion within the year.
For the initial launch, Polsky tapped colleagues and friends like Sother Teague (Amor y Amargo), Travis Tober (Nickel City, Austin) and a clutch of Los Angeles–based talent: Yael Vengroff (The Spare Room), Christine Wiseman (Broken Shaker), Mike Capoferri (Thunderbolt), Gianna Johns (The NoMad), Erin Hayes (Westward Whiskey) and Chris Amirault (Otium) to come up with ready-to-drink cocktail concepts. The directive for each of them was to create a canned cocktail that is sparkling, low ABV (7.5 percent) and takes well to a wide range of temperatures so it can be enjoyed directly from the fridge, over ice or even hovering near room temperature.
Beyond promoting this new line of cocktails, LiveWire will broker any bartender’s potential revenue stream, from guest gigs and book and endorsement deals to consulting, public appearances and raises. “If we make this process easy for bar professionals and ensure negotiations are in writing, legitimate and fair, it will effect change,” says Polsky. “But my dream is also that one day soon, consumers can simply go to the store to buy their favorite bartender’s newest cocktail release.”