Behind the Bartender: Chris Amirault of The Corner Door

This talented barman is all about Japanese whiskey right now

Sure, barman Chris Amirault probably gets carded a lot. But behind his fresh-faced good looks he’s quite the experienced bartender, having worked and trained under the best like Julian Cox, Dushan Zaric, and Dave Kupchinsky. He’s also created cocktails for some of the hottest spots in L.A., from Eveleigh to Harlowe to the recently renovated Clifton’s Cafeteria.

I’ve always been a fan of his work, especially of what he did at Harlowe, handily making it one of my most favorite bars out of the 1933 Group’s repertoire. His cocktails are a combination of intriguing, tasty, and fun. Even his short-lived brunch cocktails were inventive. But then he left the 1933 Group for Clifton’s, helping create the program for its main bar, the Monarch Bar, which showcased soda fountain creations and quaffable high-volume cocktails.

Things weren’t meant to be as after a very short stint and an apparent mass exodus of key players, like the chef and former beverage director Damian Windsor, he departed from the L.A. landmark and just last week popped up behind the stick at The Corner Door. There he joins noted bartender Beau du Bois to further seal the West L.A. barestaurant’s status as a drink destination.

I had a chance to ask him some questions as part of our recurring Q&A series with L.A. bartenders. Here are his quick answers.

What’s a popular drink at your bar?
The Taco Truck – mezcal, pineapple-infused Campari, and Sweet Vermouth. A perfect boozy balancing act of smoke, bitter and with a hint of pineapple. It’s got a name that sells itself.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
The Observational Prowl. My acting days taught me to pay attention to the constant stimulus around you. We are constantly consuming flavors throughout the day. Some of my best inspiration comes from a dish I’ve had, reading cookbooks, or just perusing the menu at a restaurant. L.A. is a great place for all things culinary and liquid, so its important to take an inventory to the food you eat and the beverages you drink on a regular basis. One of those might be the next best seller on your menu!

What’s the best night to go to your bar and why?
I like nights when it’s just me behind the bar. I like to be in control, making sure I am facilitating everyone’s good time. It’s fun to do the rush solo; you really learn a lot about being a bartender and yourself during those times. These nights tend to be during the week, which are generally more conducive to spending more time with guests and learning about them.

The next big thing in cocktails is_____?
I think the next big thing has nothing to do with spirits, ingredients, or tools. I think we’ve come a long way in terms of innovation in all of those spaces. However, I think we’ve gotten away from what makes the bars special in the first place. The bartender is a special kind of person, the curator of the fun, the master of ceremonies. I think we are going to see a shift in focus to the human aspect of what we do, the fun-loving rockstar, the wise old sage. There are so many bars that make great drinks now; what makes your bar unique is the people behind it. Nobody comes because they are hungry or thirsty, they are there because they want to have a good time. I think you’ll see a lot of bartenders bringing the party back to the bar.

What’s your hidden talent?
I play a bunch of basketball. It was my first love, and a hobby of mine that I try to incorporate into my life as much as I can.

Where do you like to drink in L.A.?
I’m a big cigar guy, so naturally if I had one drink left in this world, you could find me at the back bar of La Descarga sipping a Santa Teresa and smoking a Padron. I tend to go there on Tuesday nights when it’s quiet. I can bring some work that I need to get done or just kick back and relax.

Where’s your favorite place to eat in L.A.?
I go to Salt’s Cure three to four times a week. I’m very lucky that it’s so close to my house. Two words: Pork. Chop.

What do you like to drink when you’re not working?
Whiskey mostly. I’ve been a big fan of Japanese whiskey highballs lately so more likely than not you’re going to find Nikka Pure Malt and soda in my glass.