Interview: bartender Jacques Bezuidenhout (Partida + Kimpton Hotels)

Bartender San Francisco


Is there anything you miss about being behind one bar on a regular basis?

I miss the idea of – anytime I get behind the bar, like here tonight – I miss the idea of being with your bartender team, getting ready for the night, your station, getting into the rhythm of the bartender, where you’re balancing so many things that can go so right or go so wrong, and being with guests, and making drinks and hearing the music, and being around all the madness that goes into making a bar.

Cocktail Los Angeles
What’s your general approach when you’re naming cocktails?

That’s the hardest thing. I think about it, and it’s either got to link to the spirit and the history of the spirit, or is it going to link to the neighborhood or the bar, or a specific ingredient? It doesn’t always work out that way, but I always want the drink to have some kind of story. Like the Black Opal. A friend of mine owns three bars in Austin, Texas. He loves drinking tequila, beer and whiskey. I love Guinness and I love tequila, and often, I’ll sit hand in hand with a Guinness and tequila. I go, “Wow, these go well together.” When I made the drink, I thought, “What am I going to call this?” Black Opal just stuck in my head. Yeah, that makes sense. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s really difficult.

What kind of music do you like to listen to when you’re behind the bar?

I think music has to make sense to a specific venue. I go for anything from grunge to pop rock to hip-hop. I think so much depends on the energy of that bar flow. I don’t go too extreme, like some bars play heavy metal, but the bars I like to work in, you find that medium energy. You want somebody to walk into your bar, no matter what kind of mood they’re in, to feel lively and have a good night.

You mentioned proximity to wine country being a good thing for being in San Francisco. You obviously like to drink a variety of things. Where and what do you like to drink when you’re not traveling or behind the bar?

When I got to San Francisco, I caught the wine bug and took it upon myself to learn about wine. There’s a really good wine shop in San Francisco. There’s Wine Warehouse, there’s K&L Wines, and there’s…I can’t think of it, but it’s just a really good local wine store. Every Saturday, they have tastings that run from $5 to $30, Chardonnays to Sauvignon Blancs, to Pinot Noirs, to Burgundies, to Bourdeauxs. I caught the bug and would go every Saturday to taste and read and go to wineries in Napa and Sonoma. I love the idea of a bar and a bartender knowing cocktails, beers, spirits, wines. They’re all interesting to drink. You can’t drink cocktails all the time. Having wine at dinner, a great beer on a hot day, before or during dinner, they all work.

Are there any establishments that you keep going back to for any of those things?

Specific bars or restaurants?


San Francisco always changes. To me, the places that evolve and keep their product interesting, I keep going back to. There are always the old school places in San Francisco, like Bix, that’s been there 20 years. It’s a beautiful back bar, and they don’t just make classic cocktails. They offer beautiful Champagnes. I’d say one of the most progressive bars and restaurants in San Francisco is Nopa. Their wine program, wines by the glass, are really interesting. Wine wise, the draw from Spain, Greece and Portugal. They have a Sherry program, great Ports, and amazing spirit program. It’s those types of restaurants where you can always find comfort as well as something that will take you to a new part of world that you’ve never experienced before. To me, I find those most interesting.

If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, primarily to drink cocktails and spirits, what city would it be?

Right now, I’d say Barcelona.

How come?

I’ve been to Spain. I’ve been to Jerez to see how they make Sherry. I’ve been to Madrid, but didn’t go to Barcelona because I had to cut my trip short. I love the food culture in Spain right now, the idea of tapas and small plates and trying different things. I love that style of eating, and Spain has a very specific drinking culture, where they get big ice and prepare their gin and tonics in a specific way. The bartenders do it in a very European way, so they’ll put big ice into a glass, a couple dashes of Angostura bitters, and then they’ll squeeze a few lemon and lime wedges into there, with the tongs, so there’s a beautiful service with three ounces of gin – in Spain, they love either Beefeater or Tanqueray – and proper quinine tonic. Phenomenal. I love how they elevate it with great ingredients and showmanship. There’s also a bar there that I’ve been wanting to see called the Dry Martini…It’s a shrine in Barcelona to go have a martini at, as well as the architecture.

If you could only drink one more cocktail, what would be in your glass?

If it was my last one?


Don’t tell the Partida people this, but if my last cocktail was to be a last cocktail, it would be a Negroni.

Who would you let make it for you?

Wow. That is a really tough question. I think of some of the London bartenders, like Peter Dorelli, who worked at the Savoy and has a great personality. If it’s more about expertise, if it was a London bartender, it would be Peter Dorelli. If it were an American bartender, I would say Dale DeGroff, so I could have some entertainment, it would be an engaging conversation, and it would be a last memorable cocktail.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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