Gary Regan, Maestro of Mixology and Cocktail Culture, Dies at 68

Gary Regan, who began tending bar in his parents’ British pub when he was 14, would go on to help lead this century’s craft cocktail revolution in America.

He did it by decoding the art of mixology and by infusing it with an ingredient that’s difficult to bottle: an empathetic grin.

“Drinks are not the main reason to tend bar,” he said in an interview with Drink magazine last year. “The most important thing a bartender can do is make people smile.”

Mr. Regan, who died of pneumonia on Nov. 15 at 68 in a Newburgh, N.Y., hospital, achieved his goal as a bartender, saloonkeeper, columnist, author and mentor, all part of an exuberant lifetime in which work and pleasure were indistinguishable.

“Gary made people feel good,” said Amanda Schuster, the editor in chief of “The Alcohol Professor” blog and the author of “New York Cocktails” (2017).

In his “The Joy of Mixology” (originally published in 2003), he meticulously cataloged cocktails and elaborated his occupation’s plusses and minuses without romanticizing or disregarding overindulgence by bartenders or their customers.

He also wrote The Cocktalian, a column for The San Francisco Chronicle; hosted a syndicated radio program with F. Paul Pacult, an expert on liquid spirits, called “The Happy Hour”; and created a Worldwide Bartender Database.

Mr. Regan expanded into the liquor business by developing Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6.

He was a self-proclaimed roustabout who settled into a more serene state of mind after surviving a painful bout with tongue cancer, which he blamed on smoking and drinking, in 2003.

He applied eyeliner as an affectation, supposedly to remind bartenders to look customers in the eye. He moved from New York City to Cornwall-on-Hudson, about 65 miles to the north. He called himself “gaz,” a singularly lowercase version of the English diminutive for Gary.

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And to speed up service at a bistro in Cognac, France, he put an imprint on his signature cocktail, the Negroni (gin, Campari, sweet vermouth, an orange peel twist), by wielding one of his index fingers as a swizzle stick in a row of the drinks ready for waiting customers. (The retailer Cocktail Kingdom now sells a bar spoon in the life-size shape of his finger, either gold-plated or in stainless steel.)

In “A Proper Drink: The Untold Story of How a Band of Bartenders Saved the Civilized Drinking World” (2016), Robert Simonson characterized Mr. Regan as “a bon vivant eccentric, a devil-may-care libertine as blissfully unconcerned with his reputation as your average aging rock star.”

“He is an unlikely authority figure — more barfly than bar scholar,” Mr. Simonson wrote. “But an authority figure he nonetheless is, one of the accepted grand old men of the cocktail resurgence. He achieved this status primarily because he got there first.”

Gary Lee Regan was born on Sept. 18, 1951, in Rochdale, a town in Greater Manchester, England, to parents who ran two pubs in nearby towns, the Prince Rupert in Bolton and the Bay Horse in Cleveleys.

After training as a chef at Courtfield Catering College in Blackpool, he ran a bistro with his wife, Norma. They divorced after about two years of marriage, and he moved to New York in 1973, when he was 22.

A friend from Bolton hired Mr. Regan to tend an Upper East Side bar in Manhattan, after which he became manager of the North Star Pub at South Street Seaport. There he was schooled in the fine points of barroom banter by observing a customer, a Scotsman, who would pore over reference books on whiskey over lunch so that he could later impress friends with his knowledge.

“I learned the power of storytelling,” Mr. Regan recalled, “and the entertainment value of the liquor and bar businesses.”

Rosie Schaap, the author of “Drinking With Men” and the former “Drink” columnist for The New York Times Magazine, said, “What mattered most to him about bar culture was what always should matter most: people.”

The conceit of eyeliner, a pen name and his substitution of a finger for a swizzle stick notwithstanding, said David Wondrich, an author and historian of the cocktail, “Gary was the one to remind all the budding mixologists that the fundamental rules of bartending still applied. That the people drinking their creations were guests, not fans. That they were in a service business, not an art one.”

Mr. Regan was recruited to write a column for Food Arts — his second wife, Mardee Haiden Regan, worked there — after her bosses were impressed with his observations about various single malt whiskies as quoted in an interview in Time magazine in 1990. He went on to publish his first book, “The Bartender’s Bible,” in 1991.

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Together, the couple wrote, among others, “The Book of Bourbon and Other Fine American Whiskeys” (1995), “New Classic Cocktails” (1997), “The Bourbon Companion” (1998) and “The Martini Companion” (1999). Among his other books was “The Negroni: Drinking to La Dolce Vita, with Recipes & Lore” (2013).

His second marriage also ended in divorce. He was married 11 years ago to Amy Gallagher, who confirmed his death. He had no other immediate survivors.

Mr. Regan’s “Joy of Mixology” became an indispensable resource for both professional and home-schooled bartenders. Mr. Regan offered history, recipes and, “like Linnaeus,” as William Grimes wrote in The New York Times Book Review, “he surveys the teeming, seemingly chaotic population of mixed drinks and imposes order.”

Mr. Regan’s taxonomy grouped cocktails into families, including Sea Breezes and Cape Codders under New England highballs, and Cosmopolitans and margaritas under sours.

He had a simple reason for moving beyond mixing drinks and diversifying into writing and other ventures. “I wanted not to have to stand behind a bar,” he once said.

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