Interview: bartender Jaymee Mandeville (Drago Centro)

Bartender Los Angeles

Jaymee Mandeville didn’t immediately choose bartending for her career, but she eventually embraced the industry, and now thrives. The one-time law student worked in entertainment as a Miramax contract administrator and after that, a freelance stylist, before igniting a passion for cocktails and spirits. On December 3, I met Mandeville on the patio at Drago Centro and the downtown restaurant’s newly promoted bar manager shared several spirited insights.

What’s your first cocktail memory, good or bad?

The first cocktail I ever had was a Cuba Libre. One of my friends – we were in high school and her brother had gone off to college. He was back in town. Her parents were out of town, so they had a huge party, of course, like teenagers do. So that was my first drink ever, not beer or anything, straight into Cuba Libres. So the first was great, the second one, great. By then, I stopped remembering. So it’s a good memory, I guess.

What was your first bar job?

I worked at a golf course. My sophomore year in college, my friend was working as a banquet server at a private golf course by us. She was like, “Oh, you should come. They’re looking for beverage cart girls.” If you’ve ever played golf, it’s the person who basically drives around the golf course in a larger car, and it has, like, your beer, a couple spirits in airplane size bottles, and so you drive around from hole to hole and it’s like six o’clock in the morning, which is crazy when you’re in college. Half the time I would sleep for an hour, shower, and then go straight to work, and be mixing Manhattans early in the morning, and Jim Beam bottles, and Martini & Rossi, doing Scotch on the rocks, this and that.

Where were you in college at the time?

Chapman University.

What were you majoring in?

Business and Communications, and I minored in Dance over there.

Do you feel like either one helps you in what you do now?

I guess so. I think both of them do, for sure. The business side, I think bartending’s a big part about selling, and being personable and thinking about things, especially now that I’ve taken over the bar program here. Now I’ve got to worry about the whole dollars and cents as well, not just the creative side of things. I guess the dance, it’s a crazy job sometimes, as far as the physical demands of it. I think sometimes the coordination helps. I was a baton twirler when I was young. Sometimes I feel like the hand-eye coordination kind of carries over.

Would you say you’ve had any mentors over the years?

Not really. I haven’t been lucky enough to. Prior to working here, I came from a club background. I worked at sports bars. I’ve kind of been all around. I haven’t really been in a serious cocktail scene until, sort of, recently. There’s certainly people I’d like to work with.

Was there a point when you started looking at this like a career?

I don’t know. I can’t really pinpoint one specific time, but it’s definitely something that’s grown and grown over the years. When I first started bartending – I guess I’ve been in and out of it since college – and then, I actually originally moved up to L.A. to go to law school. I went to law school. It wasn’t for me. I did one year of it, then started working in the entertainment side of things. I was a Miramax contract administrator for awhile, and then on the management side of things. From there, then I started freelance styling work. That’s when I started back into the bars, because it was something I decided I could do. I could do freelance styling work during the day. I was assisting at the time, and then, come into a night job at 9 o’clock at night. Sleeping was not necessary.

Is it now?

Yeah, a little bit. That’s what’s nice about working in a restaurant now. I’m never getting out past two o’clock in the morning. I still do some of my styling work here on the side.

Oh, you do?

I do, yeah. Definitely I see bartending as a career choice, and it’s something I devote my time and effort into.

What do you want people to know you for as a bartender?

I don’t know. I just want to be known for pushing the envelope and taking really classic techniques and pushing out into something new and different. Which is exciting. I love mixing odd things together. I’ve had like cocktails where I’ve done things like cranberry with Laphroig and pancetta and maple garnishes on them, and a bunch of flavor profiles you wouldn’t put together. I try to piece things together in a creative way. I love cooking too. A lot of what I love with that falls into what I do in bartending.

And working in a restaurant?

Working in a restaurant is awesome. Especially here, I have everything to play with, anything molecular, anything beyond that. I have great stoves to work with. I’m really lucky as far as our staff here. They’re always helpful.

I bought chestnuts recently. I’d gone to the farmers market in Hollywood a couple weeks ago, because I figured for here it’s such a natural, and I tried using them in a cocktail. They’re kind of pricey too, so I ended up using them. I had them all laid out on one of those baking dishes back there and I was just about ready to put them in an oven. The chef came up and said, “Oh cool, Italian chestnuts, what are you going to do with those?” I’m just going to bake them and boil them in water and make a syrup. He’s like, “Really? But you didn’t score them or anything.” I’m like, “I had to?” I spent another 20 minutes with a huge knife trying to score them and peeling them, etc., etc.

What did that end up becoming?

A syrup for one of my cocktails. That’s kind of a little reminiscent of a Brandy Alexander, but with the chestnut liqueur and a little nutmeg on it.

What does a cocktail have to be if it’s going to make your list?



Joshua Lurie

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

Leave a Comment