Behind the Bar: McCarthy's bartender can weave a tale


By: Marshall V. King

Marshall V. King/Flavor574

Wally Ruston can weave a tale and make a drink.

In a tie and vest, with his shirtsleeves rolled up, he shakes a cocktail vigorously. As he pours, he’ll tell its story.

“I’m kind of like ridiculously serious about what I do,” said Ruston, who is bartending at McCarthy’s on the Riverwalk, 333 NIBCO Parkway, Elkhart.

This summer, he’s been serving a lot of sparklers. Not the fireworks, but drinks with fizz or a lighter touch for the summer.

He’s a fan of the East of Georgia, an iced tea drink he created because he was “frustrated people weren’t drinking enough at lunchtime.”

He’ll tell you that he invented the drink of ginger and peach cordials with iced tea and lemonade when he worked at The Mark. The bar now touts it as its own, but it’s on Ruston’s menu too.

See? The drink has a story. Ready for a second round?

For Behind the Bar, Ruston is offering up the original Vesper Martini.

When Ian Fleming was writing Casino Royale, he included a scene of his fictional spy ordering a Vesper Martini. It’s served after being stirred, not shaken. In the movies, Bond ordered martinis “shaken, not stirred.”

Ruston will tell you that’s because Smirnoff was doing product placement. “The books had nothing,” he said.

His own story of becoming a bartender started in Chicago in 1985 when he worked a couple nights a week. By 1990, he was working full-time and had his own place.

He came to northern Indiana in 2000 and worked in a number of South Bend establishments before coming to McCarthy’s in 2013.

He collects book on his craft. He loves whiskeys and their range. “Whiskeys of the world are really what I do,” he said.

His specialty is cocktails of 1850 to 1920 “before vodka and sugar ruined the world.” Cocktails were to be enjoyed by everyone, not just men, he said. When made properly there’s a range of what an epicure can sip and enjoy.

He loves his work. And he loves Elkhart. “It’s kind of indomitable,” he said. “It’s got spirit.”

Original Vesper Martini

  • 1 ½ ounces gin
  • 1 ounce vodka
  • 1 ounce lillet blanc, a fortified wine

Measure and pour into shaker over ice. Stir vigorously with a bar spoon. Pour into a chilled martini glass and top with a twist of lemon as the “ice rink” forms on the top.

Ruston’s cocktail tips

  1. Always measure. You can’t make a classic cocktail the same way, and deliciously, without measuring, he says.
  2. Approach cocktails the way a kitchen would approach food. The blend of flavors are like a food when made well.
  3. Explore. “Come on in. I’ll get you started,” he said.
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