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WNC Business

It's My Job: Matthew Rentz - Lead Bartender, Antidote at Chemist Spirits

May 29, 2024 11:21AM ● By Randee Brown

The first beverages Matthew Rentz created were not cocktails, but coffee drinks. Entering the service industry via Starbucks, Rentz quickly realized he enjoyed the work of blending different flavors and consistencies to create great drinks.

Moving to New York City in 2015, Rentz waited tables and tended bar at a small establishment where he learned how to create proper cocktails, when to shake versus when to stir, and was promoted to their general manager at age 25. He then transitioned to The NoMad, a well-known hotel bar created by the owners of the prestigious and globally popular Eleven Madison Park restaurant.

“It was a great experience,” Rentz said. “I served many dining rooms and worked many events and made great money, I wasn’t behind the bar very much. I did gain an education and appreciation of the cocktail industry and learn from some of the industry’s major players.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic began closing bars and restaurants, Rentz and his wife relocated to Asheville. After working at several places, he found a position at Antidote at Chemist Spirits. Antidote was appealing as the business is focused on creating finely-crafted cocktails, something he has always enjoyed.

“I also love the simplicity of the cocktail lounge,” Rentz said. “It’s a weird spot in the middle of ‘Beer City’ and I appreciate the difference. Antidote reminds me of an old New York City bar — eclectic and elegant at the same time. It’s the nicest and coolest-looking bar in town.”

Rentz’s fun begins as he arrives for his shift. Before the bar opens, he and the team prepare ice, garnishes, and batched cocktails, making sure everything is clean from the previous night’s shift and ready for the new day. The team chooses “pumped up music” to listen to while they prepare, building energy and positivity before guests come in. They joke around and ensure morale is high, and also keep each other accountable. Rentz said he appreciates how each individual is able to take their job seriously while having a good time at work.

“Sometimes it gets busy preparing for a shift as crowds of people gather at the gate,” Rentz said. “We try to prepare for the rush of people once the gate is unlocked by leaning into what people typically order, as familiar cocktails like espresso martinis and old fashioneds are often in high demand.”

Associated with the Downtown Asheville distillery Chemist Spirits, Antidote features many of their spirits in their signature cocktails. Antidote is the first to receive new products and new blends, and the bartending team creates cocktails specifically to show off the flavor notes of these spirits. The distillers or bottle shop crew often share suggestions for how to bring out some of the flavors of these blends, and Rentz said tweaking recipes and working through the creative mixology process is his favorite part of the job.

“While the bar highlights the ‘old school prohibition style’ and features many gin-based cocktails, we want to make sure everyone is comfortable,” Rentz said. “We use a variety of spirits and keep rotating menus created by the bartending staff. Bartenders-in-training often get taken under the wing of a team member and are encouraged to create new cocktails too. There always ends up being something for everyone on our menu.”

After being connected to one of the most successful restaurants in the world, Rentz said he is excited to see craft cocktails getting more attention in Beer City. Visitors from out of town have heard of Antidote and have it on their list of places to visit while they’re in town. He and the team take their jobs seriously, despite sometimes hearing comments like “when are you going to get a real job?”.

“It feels good to play a part in building recognition of the business,” Rentz said. “There’s a huge sense of pride, good morale, and good work ethic on our team. While some people may look down on those working in the service industry, it’s incredibly rewarding. More people are taking craft cocktails seriously, we are getting noticed, I am good at what I do, and it feels good to feel like we are doing important work. We have the look, the feel, and the substance, and I feel happy to be helping make this bar another Asheville destination point.”

Matthew Rentz is a lead bartender at Antidote. Learn more at