Interview: bartender Matt Biancaniello (Roosevelt Library Bar)

Bartender Los Angeles


How did the Library Bar opportunity come about?

I happened to know the manger through yoga, and she was looking to fill the position here and she knew that I had experience. I pretty much came in and met with the GM and a bunch of people and that was that.

Do you have a current favorite spirit or liqueur that you’re working with?

My favorite to mix with is Hendrick’s Gin. My favorite to infuse with is Basil Hayden’s bourbon.

Why those two?

I like Hendrick’s. It’s a very smooth gin, it has the cucumber and rose and isn’t too strong or have that gin taste. It seems to work very well with cocktails. I don’t have a lot of selection, so I’ve had to educate myself on a lot of spirits that aren’t even here. I’ve had to go out and buy other bottles on my own to educate myself on what they were. Basically I’m self taught and educated, but also needed to know other things as well. I tried Martin Miller’s Gin and think it’s a great gin, but it didn’t mix as well. It’s great on its own. One of my favorite drinks is a gin and tonic. I would take a 209 Gin with Fever-Tree tonic and squeeze in a half of lime and I’d be happy as a clam. That’s probably one of my favorite drinks of all time.

What about the Basil Hayden’s bourbon?

We don’t have a whole lot of bourbons. That one, I think it’s 51% Rye in it. It’s a lot of smoother, has a nice vanilla caramel flavor in it, so if I infuse vanilla, which is one of the things I do with figs, it has a nice smoothness. A lot of people don’t like that it would take the kick out of the bourbon, but I like that. What it is with that, or bourbon in general, it has so much more character, so if you infuse it, you feel like you’re playing with a beautiful ingredient.

So you weren’t given much direction once you were hired here?

Not much, and not to their fault…I probably wouldn’t have excelled as much if I weren’t left alone as much as I was. To me, I don’t need to micromanaged. I’m self-motivated…It was a wonderful way to teach myself.

Bar Los Angeles
What’s one cocktail that you came up recently and what was your approach?

One that I’m most proud of because I feel like it’s the most original is called Last Tango in Modena. That’s the one with strawberries, balsamic vinegar and St. Germain foam, made with a foam canister, egg whites and lime. I’ve learned more from chefs and cookbooks than from bartenders. It’s about taking certain foods and sensations together and seeing how they work. I don’t remember where I saw it, but I saw that somebody put balsamic vinegar on ice cream, and I said, you know what, I’ll put it in a drink. I know I’ve seen vinegars that say strawberry balsamic on it, so I already knew it worked. Basically I just put those together and tried different spirits. What’s nice about working at the hotel is that I could have different people try them out. This is what I think, but let me get some feedback. Pretty much, I got it down in half a day in terms of what was right. Then I knew I wanted to do a St. Germain foam, and you’re reading Dale [DeGroff]’s book, you’re reading Scott Beattie’s book. They’re using gelatin and it seems complicated and I tried it and it just wasn’t coming out. It didn’t seem something that would be easy to do during service. I bumped into Vincezno [Marianella] from Copa d’Oro at Whole Foods. I said, how the hell do you make a foam? He said, “Whatever you do, you use an egg white and you have to have an acid in there. You have to squeeze a lime in.” Somebody told me to do that and then add powdered sugar, but I didn’t want to add sugar to something that I already thought was kind of sweet. I just wanted the essence of it. Sure enough I did that and unbelievable. Now it’s something that if I run out of it, I have a measuring cup and it takes me less than 15 seconds to fire it up again.

Do you have a cocktail mentor?

I haven’t met them, but I’d say Dale DeGroff for obviously everything I’ve learned from his book and Scott Beattie for everything I’ve learned from his book. Seeing the way that I like to approach cocktails, it seems like he’s taken it to a whole new level. I love freshness and I love beauty and I love making my cocktails beautiful as well. This guy goes to the farmers markets. He’s a huge mentor because I see he’s somebody who really has a relationship with the farmers.

Bar Los Angeles
Where do you like to shop? Which markets?

I go to five markets a week. On Saturday I go to Santa Monica, and I sometimes go to Calabasas as well. On Sunday, I’ll hit Larchmont and Hollywood. Monday is Fountain. Wednesdays is Santa Monica. I’m always working on Tuesday and it starts too late, but otherwise I’d go to Culver City. Those are the five. Larchmont is good because that’s where my juice lady is. She doesn’t pasteurize the juice. Whatever the season is, I buy that juice. I have a chile margarita, and it’s seasonal. It has the same components, but each season I change it. Right now it’s fresh mandarin juice. In the fall, it’s pomegranate juice. In the winter, it’s blood orange juice. Three incredible juices that all change the dynamic a bit, but all incredible. When I was creating this menu, I wanted to create drinks that I could do all year long, but now the drinks I’m doing are all very seasonal and just different. They’re always evolving.

What’s your schedule like?

I work five days a week. Come in at 3, two hours of set up, then I’m out at 4 AM. By the time I close at 2, I’m doing all the dishes, putting everything back, and I have to wipe down. I’m here probably 11, 12 hours a day, sometimes longer, then I’m out shopping as well. This morning, I went to bed at 4, woke up at 8:30, went to the farmers market, went to yoga, sometimes come in a bit earlier, make a syrup and then set up.

What are some other bars that you enjoy going to?

I love Copa d’Oro and think it’s a great place. I like things that are unusual. [Vincenzo Marianella] has an unusual mind, does unusual things. I like his approach to things. I haven’t been to a lot of places because I’m working so much. I haven’t been to Roger Room yet. I want to check that out. I’ve been to The Varnish, but only for meetings. I love the set up of The Varnish. We had a Grand Marnier tasting there and I had some drinks and they were fabulous. I love the whole style of it. I loved the glassware and the ice and how it looked. When we did the Chartreuse competition, I was impressed with The Doheny as well. We didn’t have any cocktails there, but I thought it was an incredible place.

What’s a great simple cocktail recipe for people to make at home?

I like to use Hangar One Mandarin Vodka, fresh mandarin juice and Fever-Tree tonic water. That’s it. It’s incredible. It’s just a very orange, very refreshing drink, and it’s simple. Between 1.5-2 oz. of spirit, 1 oz. juice, 2 oz. tonic.

If you could only drink one more cocktail, what would it be?

Gin and tonic. Probably 209 and tonic.

How come?

I love it. It’s just a great refreshing…I love gin and tonic. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it reminds me of being outside in a hammock in the summer. It has to have a lot of fresh lime, so it has to have at least ½ oz. to ¾ oz. of fresh lime in it.

Biancaniello typically works every night but Thursday and Sunday.


Joshua Lurie

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

Blog Comments

I use Dale DeGroff’s Essential Cocktail as a manual for all things bar oriented. It’s a great read and a must-have for cocktail lovers. Matt’s a trooper, that’s a tough schedule he runs.


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