Raising a glass

Bonk’s Bar manager wins citywide Guinness Perfect Pour Competition

Sláinte!: Bobby Rea, manager at Bonk’s Bar in Port Richmond, holds his trophy and his winning pint at the Guinness Perfect Pour Bartender Challenge in Philadelphia. PHOTO COURTESY OF BOBBY REA

By Melissa Komar

If you’re looking for a picturesque pint of Guinness, you don’t have to travel to the Motherland to get it.

In fact, you don’t have to travel outside the city limits.

Bobby Rea, 31, manager and bartender at Bonk’s Bar in Port Richmond, raised the first-place pint last Tuesday at Guinness’ Perfect Pour Bartender Challenge at World Cafe Live.

The Guinness rep for Bonk’s asked Rea to compete, and after moving past the initial pour, three to four more rounds, and three finals pints, Rea prevailed.

“Guinness did it in Philly a few years ago, and then they had it in Atlantic City the last few years, and this is the first time they brought it back to Philadelphia,” Rea said, his Irish brogue as thick as the Guinness he poured. “The competition was some Americans and some Irish. But, it was a cool event. A lot of different bars from all over Philadelphia were there. I didn’t realize how big it was. They went quite large-scale on it.”

Aside from bragging rights, the Elkins Park resident took home a Guinness windbreaker and a trophy created in the likeness of a pint of Guinness, only more than double the size.

And, he got to drink his winning pint (and then some).

Winning was not a walk in the corner watering hole.

“The technique is a little dependent on the systems you have in place at your bar because there’s every different little gas line and kegs. The longer the draw, the more it affects the pint. So, if you have a really short draw, it makes for a much better pint,” Rea said. “But, it’s really down to following the right process.”

That process starts with a clean glass, tipping it at a 45-degree angle, filling it up close to the glass without the spout touching it, letting it pour in without bubbles, filling it almost to the top (about ⅕ empty), letting it turn black, bringing the pint up to the spout again without touching the liquid, and push back and let it fill up, according to Rea.

“It’s more of a process than anything. Guinness wanted like a checklist-type of pour,” he added. “Your Guinness should just crown perfectly over the top of the glass. You should be able to see the Guinness above the height of the glass. And, you should always have your Guinness-branded merchandise facing forward.”

While winning the competition was about technique, his heritage probably didn’t hurt.

“I’m from Ireland, obviously, as you may have guessed,” Rea said laughing, his Irish brogue as thick as his winning pint of Guinness. “I’ve been bartending for 16 years. You can bartend in Ireland when you’re 15, so I’ve been bartending since then.”

Rea’s parents were in the hotel and bar business, so pouring pints is second nature.

“I did my degree in accountancy and, then I realized I don’t like working 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. I like working weekends at the bar, you know,” he said. “I run the bar. I have my degree, but I prefer bartending and meeting people, talking to customers, giving them traveling advice for Ireland.”

Rea owned a bar in Ireland for four years, and took a year break to come to the U.S., but he couldn’t step out of the bar scene completely.

He worked at Rí Rá in Atlantic City for a year and met his future wife at the end of his trip before the duo returned to Ireland for about six months.

Then Rea got the call from Grey Lodge owner Mike “Scoats” Scotese, asking him to manage his latest venture.

Nearly two years later, the rest is perfectly poured Guinness history.

“I was surprised I won. There’s no room for error. You’re pouring one pint per round,” he said. “The fact I was able to make it through without making any mistakes was kinda surprising. So, I had a few more pints of Guinness.”

And, the ones that made him win.