Behind the Bartender: Cari Hah of Big Bar

Where she likes to drink and who makes the best low-ABV cocktails in town

Bartender Cari Hah’s diminutive stature is neither indicative of a meek personality nor an inability to manhandle a cocktail shaker. She’s helped run bars like City Tavern DTLA, made Baijiu taste good, helped open the remodeled Clifton’s, and dominated cocktail competitions. In October, she was a last-minute replacement for bartender Karen Grill at the Jameson Black Barrel L.A. bartender competition at No Vacancy, meaning she had to invent two winning cocktails within 24 hours. And after going up against bartenders like Dave Fernie (Honeycut), Daniel Eun (Normandie Club), and Christine Wiseman (Break Room 86), she won it.

Last week Cari Hah was announced as the new bar manager for Big Bar, which boasts FOMO-inducing events like Valentine proms, Derby Day parties, and crazily themed movie nights. It’s the perfect venue to showcase Cari’s talents for whimsical but impressive cocktails.

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

What’s a popular drink at your bar?
I haven’t been at Big Bar very long but I know that the Boo Radler is a SUPER popular drink! It is on the Greatest Hits menu and is a total patio pounder! It’s Campari, gin, lime juice, Bianco Vermouth and topped with grapefruit radler. It is so refreshing and seriously I could drink these all day!

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
This is tough because I get inspiration from everything! From food I love, people I adore, anime I watch, all of the things! I just want to create cocktails that are balanced, tasty, and that highlight and pay respect to the spirits!

What’s the best night to go to your bar and why?
I love the Thursdays at Big Bar because we have the special themed guest Mixtape Mixology. They are so fun and you can see all of the friends on these nights. The music is always amazing and the drinks really pay homage to the spirits that are highlighted that night.

The next big thing in cocktails is_____?
I think low ABV cocktails are really becoming fantastic right now. I am a huge fan of low ABV. One of my favorite cocktails is a Fifty-Fifty, which is a low ABV martini riff. I also love sherry and amari as base spirits in drinks. If a bartender can make a delicious, well-balanced low ABV cocktail, I am definitely a super fan (the best I have ever gotten of these are from Una Green [Belcampo], Pat Tang [Otium], Tobin Shea [Redbird] and Ryan Wainwright [Terrine]…no joke!).

What’s your hidden talent?
My hidden power is being able to walk into any bar and take one glance around and already have inventory of the bar in my head. I often have to tell the bartender where the booze I want is located in their bar.

Where do you like to drink in L.A.?
My local bar for the past 10 years has been Far Bar. It’s in my neighborhood, they have a ton of beers on tap and ALL OF THE WHISKEY! For cocktails, I am super-judgey-wudgy-was-a-bear, but the only two places I can go without worrying what the cocktail is going to taste like is Redbird (because Tobin Shea and Pat Tang are amazing) and Terrine/Viviane because Ryan Wainwright just KNOWS.

Where’s your favorite place to eat in L.A.?
If I want bougie food that is amazing I will always want to go to Bestia. The food there is amazing. For cheap and cheerful, K-Town is where it’s at. If you want to know the true potential of Korean food, always take a bossy, Korean-speaking little girl. THAT IS ME!

What do you like to drink when you’re not working?
I am a simple girl. Cocktailwise I want a Fifty-Fifty or, if the bar carries Dirty Sue products, a dirty martini. Other than that all I want is GREAT tequila or mezcal neat. If you have awesome sangrita, yes please! Or Wild Turkey Rye 101 with Angostura bitters on top.