Gary Gruver was cut from the cloth of old school bartenders. As a managing partner and head mixologist of Louisville’s popular Martini’s Italian Bistro, Gruver made a name for himself winning cocktail contests around the country, including the Bombay Sapphire competition that landed him in GQ Magazine.

Gruver is an elite bartender, creative to the core and knowledgeable about every spirit category. There are several hundred bartenders with those skills. What makes Gruver special is his old school bartending skill of making friends with his customers.

Tres Leches liqueurWhen a guest walks into his bar, he shakes their hands, takes their order, maybe asks them questions about what they like and always looks them in the eye. He smiles. When somebody says “thank you,” Gruver replies, “you’re welcome,” instead of the hipster lingo of “no worries” or “no problem.”

Yesterday was Gruver’s final shift. He’s taking the next step in the spirits business, from bartender to the mixology director for Southern Wine & Spirits in Kentucky. This is a well-deserved opportunity for the young man, who will no doubt become a shining star in the Southern organization.

To say goodbye, more than 100 of his customers filed in Martini’s Friday night to order one last drink from Gruver. With one drink, they whispered, “please don’t go.” After two, they spoke much louder: “We’re going to miss you, Gary.”

Gruver was special to his customers and they couldn’t stop bragging about him, as if he were a part of their family.

Gruver was one of my “go to” sources for random booze quotes. I first interviewed and photographed him for the August 2010 Tasting Panel Cover. Now that he’s moving on to the area’s No. 1 distributor, Gruver will be working with state bartenders and teaching them how to make drinks. But, I hope he does more than that.

I hope Gruver instructs Kentucky bartenders about the importance of charm and friendliness. Can you teach that or is it just a gift?