Interview: unlicensed barmacist Josh Goldman

Bartender Los Angeles


What is it that you say is missing from the Los Angeles cocktail scene that you and Julian might be able to help bring?

I think – and this isn’t a bag on anybody, I’m not knocking anybody’s cocktails – but I think a lot of the cocktails are the same. They have a lot of the same programs, and that’s because – quite honestly – a lot of these guys have trained with a lot of the same people. There’s this small core group of bartenders who train all the other bartenders. What I want to do with technology and technique is further flavor, and further the things you can actually do with cocktails, changing temperature, texture, components, taking certain things out of something that you can’t do otherwise, unless you have technology.

What are some of technologies you’re looking to harness over at the R&D bar at MessHall?

Well I can’t talk too much about it, but we’re going to have a centrifuge, and a RotoVap, a couple other really unique toys that are going to allow us to do things with liquids and solids that really can’t be done any other way. That’s going to allow us to further flavor, further cocktails. Really, like I said before, the exciting thing about it is that we’re at this point with bartending where it just became acceptable to be a professional bartender and have that as your profession and your life-long career. When I first started, it wasn’t like that. Looking at it now, we have people taking it more seriously. There’s just so much more out there and the more recognition, the more attention we call to everything and get more people participating and more people understanding what a good, balanced cocktail is, more people demanding the right way and the good stuff, the further this art, this craft, is going to go. I think Julian and I are just trying to do our part, poking people and prodding people toward our own brand of madness. Everybody’s got different takes. Everybody’s got different ways of doing things.

Why do you and Julian work so well together?

I don’t know what he would say about me, but he’s such a professional, and he’s such a nice guy. It’s really, really, really easy to work with him, which makes it a treat. We do a lot of R&D on cocktails together, ever since I came over, and there can generally be – let’s face it, with sommeliers, chefs, bartenders – there can be a little bit of an ego there. We just don’t have that in our relationship together. He tells me something, or I tell him something, we respect each other as professionals. We respect our palates. We respect what we’ve accomplished in our careers. I think all that combined produces a great synergy between him and me, and all of our Program Directors and everybody behind our bar. They truly do take it very seriously. They study hard. They continuously study, even after training’s over and they’re in their bars. They’re always coming up with ideas. Hey, can you try this? Hey, can you come over and help me work on this? It’s great. I learned a long time ago a good idea can come from anywhere, and I tell people, I tell my staff about ideas, I’d rather have 10 sommeliers on the floor than just myself. I’d rather have everybody in the restaurant knows the cocktails and understand the thought process behind it, just like you’re responsible for knowing the food and the items of food on the dish. Really, knowledge is part of your uniform.

Does it make what you’re trying to do in that it’s all in restaurants, rather than in establishments solely devoted to beverage?

Well, because I bring a lot of culinary aspects into the drinks that I do, it’s actually easier for me, being in a restaurant, than just being in a bar, because there’s a lot of ingredients and a lot of equipment and tools that you don’t really have in most bars, that you do have in restaurants, that you’re able to use. Plus, it’s always amazing to be able to bounce flavor pairings off chefs. And I get inspired – I’ve worked with some amazing chefs in my career – and you get inspired by their creations and what they’re doing in the kitchen and the seasonality of food and herbs, fruits, and all that kind of stuff, that they’re using and you might not have known about. Like, “Oh, that’s sick. That’s an awesome flavor combination. Now if we could just take this and throw this in with this and this, now I have a cocktail.” And it’s great, and more collaborative.

What was your very first night like, ever, behind the bar, and where was that?

That was actually at a nightclub in D.C. back in ’96, and it was called the Fifth Column, and it later got renamed, as nightclubs do, kind of remodeled, as The Bank. I worked there as well. This is when D.C. wasn’t the nicest place in the world to live, but I was completely and totally lost, and I was in the weeds real bad, buckets and buckets of sweat, covered in booze, and sticky with Rose’s Grenadine and Rose’s Lime, ‘cause we weren’t doing fresh juices back then, and not in nightclubs. And everybody thought it would be a really funny idea to keep doing shots with me, so I was wasted by the end of the night. So I was in the weeds, completely and totally embarrassed, emotionally and physically spent and really questioning whether I could do the job or not because you just had rows 10-deep yelling cocktails at you. And it was really tough, but I stuck with it, put one foot in front of the other, and here I am today.

When did you know you’d work with beverage for a living, or for a career?



Joshua Lurie

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

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