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Somerville: N. Bryan Mack, “Chef Behind the Bar” at Verve Bistro, Dies at 46

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SOMERVILLE, NJ – N. Bryan Mack, legendary mixologist and “chef behind the bar” at Verve Restaurant, Bar& Bistro, has died at the age of 46.

Mack was the consummate front man,  a dapper dresser, beginning his career at Verve in 2002 with starched shirts, cuff links and silk ties, but lately given over to a themed artistic punk look - modified bearskin hat adorned with welders’ goggles and striped vest. It was an identity that morphed with his growth as a world class mixologist, a creative genius and one of the top barmen in the business, according to longtime friend, owner and proprietor of Verve, Rick St. Pierre.

The hat and googles now adorn the corners of the bar, connected by a continuous line of white candles;  his  tools are displayed at the center of the bar with black bunting draped across the back of the bar.

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Mack was made for Verve, and Verve was made for him.

He came to Verve after working at Stage Left, a sophisticated restaurant and bar in New Brunswick's theater district where he was a chef and sommelier.

Mack was most comfortable and at home working behind Verve's classic turn-of-the-century bar where the first legal drink was served in Somerville following Prohibition. A former speakeasy, the century-old building was his world, his stage, where his boundless creativity was embodied in the carefully-crafted cocktails that defined him and Verve.

“He redefined and re-created the Verve brand, from being not just a French bistro with bar and wine list. It became a bistro with personality and individual expression of style, it was his creative platform,” St. Pierre said.

He was, according to a memoriam written by family and friends, “a unique spirit that lit up this world like no other.”

Rev. Ron Pollock will preside at a celebration of his life on Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 11 a.m.at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 158 West High St.

The service will also include music and remembrances of Mack, with family and friends returning to Verve, 18 E. Main St., for a Repass that will continue throughout the day.

In keeping with Mack's compassion for the Somerville community, donations in his memory may be made to “Arts on Division,” a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to the arts, P.O. Box 220 Somerville, NJ 08876.

Mack lived just three blocks from Verve.

Mack’s persona was infused with the arts, from the meals and signature drinks he created to his original artwork. His art will be on display at St. John’s during the memorial service. He was a graduate of Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts, attending school on a full scholarship,

“Not to dismiss his paintings – his creations are epic – he transferred that gift of being a fine artist to the craft of food, wine and beverage,” St. Pierre said.

“He had impeccable character and humility and he had this ability to remember the smallest details, what he served you ten years ago or two days ago, he’d always have your drink in your hand before you asked for it,” St. Pierre said.

The self-proclaimed “super beverage geek” Mack spent countless hours studying scientific tricks that he could adapt to his craft. To prep for an Atlantic City cocktail competition, he and a colleague spent days developing a perfectly clear ice cube and “milk washing” their tea and gin cocktail by adding whole milk and lemon to form curds that would suck out the astringency.

He was as good as they come, respected by his peers who revered his creativity and commitment to his craft.

Mack “arrived” on the national scene in 2014, when the National Restaurant Association invited professional mixologists to show off their most creative cocktail talents to vie for the sought-after title of “Star of the Bar.” Entry rules were simple; submit a video showing off a creative cocktail using Casamigo Tequila.

Filmed at the last minute by Unity Cinematic of Somerville, the video featured Mack pouring up a “Carlos Slim” which is a variation of the Classic Billionaire Cocktail. Named after one of the wealthiest men in South America, the cocktail is made with Casamigos Reposada, Clove infused Port, fresh lemon juice, and homemade Grenadine. Mack never expected that in a few short weeks, he would be heading to Chicago to compete as one of the six semi-finalists.

“Listen,” Mack said, “I make cocktails. I go in early every day. I do my best, try to be relevant and try to make my guests have an experience they will remember. Those of you that have sat at my bar know that this is a labor of love. I am humbled to be competing against the caliber of professionals at the National Restaurant Association. My 12-stool bar got to the finals. Wish us luck.”

Though he did not win, he was always a winner amongst the loyal legion of Verve friends.

“The first thing you picked up from this guy was that he was deeply, deeply committed,” St. Pierre said.

Mack had an abiding respect for his craft and his fellow mixologists. He was instrumental in organizing the New Jersey chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild, and served as its president.

“He was a mentor to so many in this business over the past 30 years, too many to mention by name,” St. Pierre said.

The family statement also included these sentiments:

“We all lost a rare and unique spirit that lit up this world like no other. Norman Bryan Mack painted this world with vibrance and passion from Aug. 17, 1970 through Jan. 9, 2017.

“His artistic and creative journey started as a fine arts student at Mason Gross, Rutgers and led him to his most favorite culinary families at Stage Left and Verve.

“He embraced people from all over and taught each of us how truly unique we all are.  He was the hero in our comic book. 

“Bryan was president of USBG New Jersey, a fierce dresser and the gentlest of giants.

“Bryan is survived by his father, Norman Mack; mother, Patricia Mack, sister, Keri Mack Karmozyn, brother-in-law, John Karmozyn and beloved son Jason DeVries.

“He is also loved by countless friends, Uncles, Aunts, Cousins and puppies.

“To Quote N Bryan Mack:

“Live: Every Moment. “Love: Beyond Words. “Laugh: Everyday.

“Cheers to you Mack, the man who made us all see the light within ourselves. We all love you!”

Mack had been compiling material for a book the past several years, according to St. Pierre, a fusion of art, photography, drink recipes, and his thoughts about hospitality and service. Verve and friends of Mack will complete and publish the book, and present it to the Bartenders’ Guild to use as a non-profit fund raiser, ensuring that his artful legacy continues.  

“He was, and still is the bar man of Verve,” St. Pierre said.

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