Behind the Bartender: Zahra Bates of Providence


Upon first meeting Providence’s Zahra Bates, one would mistake her for a shy, little thing. But once you get to know the soft-spoken bartender, you learn of her wicked sense of humor, so naughty it would even make Lenny Bruce run and hide. And although she appears a mild-mannered bartender in uniform behind the bar at the two-Michelin-star restaurant, Zahra is actually a wildcat in the cocktail department. She was trained by Vincenzo Marianella (2012 Spirited Awards nominee for American bartender of the year) and has made a name for herself thanks to her creative culinary cocktails. Her latest on the Providence menu, called “The Operator,” serves as an ode to Marianella. It’s made with Atlantico Platino rum, housemade honey liqueur, seedless green grape juice, and a pineapple sage foam, all served in a Pernod-rinsed glass.

Sadly, after five years, she’s leaving the Melrose Avenue restaurant. She says she doesn’t know where she’s headed yet—maybe Atlanta and/or New York (oh no!) —but she will be pulling shifts at Bar & Kitchen and Cole’s downtown in the meantime to bone up on her classic cocktail skills. At the risk of sounding selfish, here’s hoping she stays in L.A. though. She’ll only be at Providence through the end of November, so grab a drink by her while you still can.

As part of a recurring Q&A series on L.A. bartenders here, we asked her some quick questions.

What’s a popular drink at your bar?
Our drinks change regularly and we have such a small list that our guests tend to try everything. We try to do subtle drinks that will pair well with the amazing food chef Michael Cimarusti creates.

From where do you draw your inspiration?
Definitely from the kitchen and culinary techniques that have been shown to me at Providence.

What’s the best night to go to your bar and why?
I always tell people to come see me on Monday as it is free corkage night so I get rather lonely at the bar.

The next big thing in cocktails is_____?
I hate trend spotting, I always hope it is the best possible service along with cocktails… can we please make that a trend?

What’s your hidden talent?
Well it’s not so hidden anymore, but I tell some very bad jokes.

Where do you like to drink in L.A.?
I like quiet, dark places that specialize in a shot and a beer. No muss, no fuss.

Where’s your favorite place to eat in L.A.?
That’s always changing, but for traditional Japanese home fare, Wakasan on Westwood Boulevard. Thank you, Ray and Christine [England, of Craft and The Pikey, respectively] for the introduction!

What do you like to drink when you’re not working (doesn’t have to be cocktails)?
American whiskey with three dashes of Angostura bitters. No ice, no water, nothing better.

Providence, 5955 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles,