For as long as I have known Gary Regan, he has enjoyed breaking the rules, all in search of mischief and a good time for everyone. It was part of his magic.
We were on a trip to Peru in 2006, the sort of brand-led but unbranded trip that typified the industry in the early days of the “cocktail revival.” Our group had dinner one night, then walked home past a swimming pool. Our host, Diego Loret de Mola, remarked to the effect of “a pity we can’t go swimming.” Gary Regan was not someone who knew the meaning of the word “can’t.” Gary stopped, met eyes with a couple of us, turned around and led us back and straight into the swimming pool. After our clandestine swim, we spent the rest of the evening warming ourselves by a fire, pleased with ourselves for having seized a chance to fully live in the moment. That was how Gary lived, and it was contagious.
Gary had the rare ability to influence an entire industry while connecting on a meaningful one-on-one basis. He was the rock star mentor that made each of us feel special. This way of Gary’s reminds me of John Lermayer, another peer gone far too soon. You wonder how anyone can have enough time to make such an impact. I guess it has to do with the size of their hearts.
Gary was a friend to me, as he was to so many; he could be fiercely loyal. Though he could be light-hearted and silly, he was never petty and pushed back against some of those excesses that plagued this industry as it grew. On a personal note, Gary was a great defender of me. Not long after I met Gary, I was the subject of some unkind attention on social media. I asked Gary how to deal with it. He told me to ignore it. I then discovered Gary had gone online and defended me, acting as the guardian angel I did not know I needed.
No matter how busy he was, he always intervened when needed, taking an interest, performing those little (and big) acts of kindness he was always telling us to do. He reminded us through his actions that though it was pertinent to be a good bartender, it was more important to be a good person. And to be the former, you had to be the latter first.
On a bartender level, Gary was a superhero, not only for me but for all bartenders, probably everywhere. He stuck up for bartending as a profession. He made an enormous contribution to the industry. Gary inspired and encouraged bartenders to, above all, be mindful of others and always focus on kindness and human interaction. He says it best, in his “Letter to a Young Bartender” at Tales of the Cocktail a couple of years ago: “Make one guest happier when he or she leaves your bar than they were when they walked in, and you’ve changed the world. It’s that simple. And if a million bartenders all over God’s green earth do the same thing on the same night, then the happy vibes will be palpable around the globe. Bartenders can change the world.”
It can be a sad time when someone special passes away, someone who touched a lot of lives and left behind story upon story. Scrolling through others’ memories and tributes these last few weeks to our friend Gary—aka Gaz—Regan, the sadness is softened. Because there is also joy, seeing how many individuals loved him, laughing as we all recall our prized Gaz-centric stories and feeling comfort knowing Gary experienced a wonderful life. He was the first to say it he loved his life, he felt lucky in life, he was happy. He chose happiness. To lose Gary Regan is to have had him in our lives, and I am thankful for that.
It’s hard to pick one word that sums up Gary and what he means to us. It was too hard for me, so I asked a friend for help. “Inimitable” was the word they chose. (Thanks for that, Dean.) There will simply never be another Gaz. The world has changed—the way we communicate, the way we drink and the way we think.
Rest well, Gary.