Interview: bartender Jaymee Mandeville (Drago Centro)

Bartender Los Angeles


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

It has to be something that’s new, that you haven’t seen before out in the market. I always like sticking to classic recipes and putting twists on them. I think that’s important as far as balance, etc., to stick to that, as far as methods and celebrate what past people have done, and give my take on things.

Cocktail Los Angeles
How are you able to maintain balance in your life?

I don’t know. I’ve always liked to keep busy. I’m a morning person and a night person, so I feel like, for me, I’m very regimented. I usually get up at 7, 8 o’clock in the morning, go running, do yoga, whatever. During the day, I was working on doing the creative side of things, or doing the ordering for here, and I come in and work at night. It’s one of those things, sometimes when you’re here, you don’t really feel you’re working, as well. It never feels daunting.

Who’s somebody you’ve never worked with behind the bar that you would most like to work with?

I’ll break it into two people. Locally, I would love to work with Julian Cox. I just think he does things that are completely outside the box, and really intriguing, and he has so much knowledge about everything, but I really like how he does things that are really just out there.

As far as beyond that, I would love to work with Dale DeGroff. I feel like he probably just has the best stories ever. On top of being an amazing bartender, I’m sure he has so many amazing stories that date back to New York in the ’70s, ’80s, whatever, that are just super insance.

Where and what do you like to drink when you’re not working?

Well I work a lot, but sometimes I stay around here. I love going to The Varnish. I go to Bar & Kitchen a lot, which is down the road from here, and I think they have a great program over there. Where else do I like to go? Joe Brooke’s new place, Next Door Lounge, is pretty cool.

As far as naming cocktails, what’s your approach?

I don’t know if there is a super linear approach to it. Sometimes if it’s been something that kind of has some history to it – if I’ve really taken a vintage recipe – sometimes I’ll do a play on that name. Sometimes if I’ve used weird ingredients. Like one of my cocktails has Thai chile pepper in it, for my winter list, and it’s a blanco tequila, and then I’m kind of doing a cinnamon hot syrup with it, so it’s kind of like a Red Hot concept, but in a more elevated sort of way. I was sitting there looking at Red Hot Chili Pepper lyrics. It kind of blends with it, right?

What did it become?

I haven’t quite decided yet, but I might name it Silver Screen Quotations, because of the blanco tequila and chile thing behind it.

This one – [points to cocktail] – sometimes with all the tiki cocktails we do here, we always take a Pirates of the Caribbean theme and namesake with it. That kind of came from my ex boss, Michael Shearin, huge Disney fan. Like a super huge Disney fan. We kind of went the Disney route with all our rum based cocktails. I think I’ll continue doing that, because it seems like it fits.

What do you look for when you’re hiring a bartender?

A, that they make a good cocktail, right? B, it’s a lot of personality. I have no problem training people from the ground up. Sometimes I’d rather have someone that’s eager to learn and doesn’t have as much experience as someone who’s been working forever and has their own set ways and set course for doing things. Not to say I’m never open to doing things a new way, but when I have people work in my bar, I definitely have a way for doing everything. So I feel like consistency is really important. If you get this cocktail from me, and you come back tomorrow at lunchtime, you’re going to get the same cocktail from whoever else is behind the bar.

What’s a great simple cocktail that you would suggest people make at home?

I think Old Fashioneds are amazing, and I think people could easily make them at home. Take sugar, a little Angostura, it just takes a little bit of effort in muddling it, but it’s nothing – it’s not rocket science – it just takes a little work on it – and I think there are so many great bourbons, or if you want to do ryes, that are on the market now. If you want to really get into slight variances on it, just by choosing a different base with it.

What’s your personal preference for an Old Fashioned?

I like to do mine with Rittenhouse at home. I like the crispness of the rye with it. My palate’s not super sweet. That’s why I usually tend towards ryes or bourbons on it.

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

A Negroni. If I had to have a last cocktail, that would be it.

Who would you let make it for you?

I don’t know, who would I have make it for me? [laughs] So many choices, right? Last cocktail, I’d probably have Gary Regan make it for me.

How come?

I feel like he’s one of the modern grandfathers of cocktail history, and just his take, and the sight nuances with his bitters line, this and that, it’s a perfect cocktail that he’d probably do amazing, and he’s probably have 1000 stories to go along with the cocktail as he made it.


Joshua Lurie

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

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