Back in the old days, pre-cocktail renaissance, it wasn’t unheard of to find a bar’s drink creator working behind the stick. Cocktail programs didn’t get nearly the same amount of attention as they do now and were pretty informal endeavors with no one person responsible for the entire thing but rather a team of bartenders. There were no cocktail consultants or “director of drinks.”
But nowadays that’s not the case. The beverage director is usually responsible for a slew of programs, i.e. Julian Cox, and therefore rarely, if ever, found behind an actual bar anymore. For most, running a bar doesn’t leave much time for working service. So it’s a treat when you do encounter the original drink maker shaking and stirring his/her own creations because you can see them in action, find out the backstory of your favorites, or just experience how the cocktail is meant to taste. Not to say their bar crew isn’t skilled, but it’s always awesome to get it from the OG bartender.
Fortunately there are still some bar program creators out there who pull shifts. The ones whose names you’ve often seen lauded by reviewers as well as cocktail enthusiasts. Whether it’s because they want to keep in contact with their guests or they just love making cocktails, here’s when you can find them at their respective bars.
Bestia in Downtown is now double-teamed by Cocktail Director Jeremy Simpson and Bar Director Nick Krok. For their cocktail program they draw their inspiration (and ingredients) straight from Chef Ori Menashe’s kitchen. As to why they like to work the bar, Simpson says he enjoys the drink making process from top to bottom as well as interacting with the guests. “And hopefully have an opportunity to educate them on something they have no idea about is rewarding, to say the least,” he says. “The exchange of ideas and conversation behind a bar is really what got us all into this business in the first place, anyway.” Krok agrees, There’s no better feeling than hearing ‘Thank you, that was the best experience I’ve had in a long time, or ever,’ and knowing that I was an integral part not only in the preparation, but in the execution of that guest’s experience.” Schedule: Both Monday-Tuesday, Simpson Thursday-Friday, Krok Wednesday and Saturday
Daniel Sabo at Ace Hotel‘s Upstairs and L.A. Chapter bars has a favorite time for working: “After lunch, but before the evening rush. It’s my favorite time and allows me to spend more time with my team. I do, on occasion, work an evening shift, but that’s rare these days with the baby and all.” Schedule: Monday through Friday 3 to 7 p.m.
Even though Jason Eisner at Gracias Madre has a set schedule on paper he puts in more time than that creating all those fun, inventive cocktails. “Studying, getting in the lab and being playful, developing my palate, creating cocktail recipes, learning about product, learning how culinary mechanisms work, learning about history, geography, culture…the list goes on and on. It’s not a job. It’s a way of life and I LOVE what I do,” he says. Schedule: Monday-Thursday 9am-6pm, Friday-Saturday 3 p.m.-11 p.m.
Gabriella Mlynarczyk (Cadet, Ink) now spends a majority of her time creating food-friendly libations at Birch in Hollywood. She’s always worked behind the stick at her former gigs at Ink and Cadet. Like most of the other OG bartenders she enjoys the connections with her guests but also the excitement. “I get off on the adrenaline rush of being slammed behind the bar. It’s like a marathon and I compete with myself to get to the finish line as fast and efficiently as possible.” Schedule: Thursday-Monday, 2-5 p.m. prep, 6-11 p.m. service.
You can find Redbird‘s Tobin Shea, who created the program with Julian Cox, at the bar…well, all the time. “Generally I work a five 50 week (five 10-hour days) but if someone needs it off, a sixth day week will creep into my life.” Good thing he loves it. “Not to give the corny line ‘find something you love, and you’ll never work another day’ but it holds true with me.”
Vincenzo Marianella at Copa d’Oro: Monday through Thursday 5:30 p.m. to close, Friday-Saturday 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Beau du Bois at The Corner Door: Tuesday through Friday 6 p.m. to close
Alex Straus at EP/LP: Thursday-Saturday 5 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
Justin Pike at Tasting Kitchen: Tuesday-Thursday, Saturday-Sunday
Ryan Wainwright at Terrine: Friday-Saturday and Tuesday
Alex Day and Devon Tarby at The Walker Inn: Wednesday