Interview: bartender Kate Grutman (Sotto)

Bartender Los Angeles


What was your first bar job?

When I dropped out of Berkeley, I came back home and my parents were like, “Alright, you have to continue your education.” I was like, “Okay.” So I enrolled myself in National Bartending Academy and that was such a joke, but I ended up getting a job at the Farmers Market at 3rd & Fairfax. It’s a beer and wine bar. I was 22.

Which one?

Both of them, EB’s and 326. I had no idea what I was getting into. This was 8:30 in the morning every day, rolling out kegs, wearing this big oversized polo shirt, icing everything down, no barback, and then the crowd there, it’s a motley crew. It’s the same regulars every single day, rosé in the morning and beers all through the night. It was a pretty cool experience because it was the most un-glamorous, rugged scenario in a bar I could imagine in this part of town, but the development of relationships with people there; these aren’t young hipsters. It’s people who have been going there for 50 years, every day.

Have any of them been in here?

No. I don’t think they ever even leave the Farmers Market. They might even live there. I don’t know. I still go back there and they’re still the sweetest to me. Kind of that social interaction, the whole thing was so phenomenal. I got out of it, I wasn’t bartending for a really long time, and then I fell in love with wine when I was working at Mozza. That really gave me – not knowledge – but learning to taste wine and studying varietals, ethnicity and regionality, the whole thing, vintages. I went out with David Rosoff for a couple years, and he’s this wine genius. It was again picking somebody’s brain and learning to taste things and learning to understand flavors. This is before I got into spirits at all. We drank bourbon and we drank Calvados and whatnot, but I feel like the one experience gave me so much to work with in terms of learning how to taste spirits and going through spirits training, whether it was with Chad and Audrey or at Bar Smarts with liquor reps or with Julian. Whatever, it gives you verbeage, it gives you kind of fearlessness, because it’s intimidating to sit around with a bunch of people and taste things. That’s again, the creative, artistic nature of saying, “Well, that’s great, you might taste the seventh leg of a centipede in a Barolo, but I taste tomato sauce. And having people be like, “Oh yeah, totally, totally. That sort of interaction is so fun and kind of geeking out about something you’re passionate about. That’s also in the spirits world.

What’s the criteria for a cocktail that goes on the menu at Sotto?

Fortunately we have parameters, which is kind of great, because we’re not arbitrarily grabbing at random things, like, “Oh, this would be a great cocktail.” We try to incorporate an Italian ingredient, whether it’s an aperitivo, Campari or an amari, or an Italian vermouth. We try to keep it in that range where it has at least some Italian flavor to it. Julian and I, the way we usually do it, he and I will work on something on our own, and then come together and show each other, and tinker with it. This new menu was really a huge honor to be able to collaborate with him and do it together. It’s very fun because we have such different palates and our tastes and sort of preferences are totally different, but we sort of get each others work. I love totally – I feel like I can recognize something he would like right away now and he gets how I work.

What’s an example of one that’s on the list now that you developed?

Again, Holland, Genever, the Hollandaze. I made a homemade pistachio orgeat because pistachios are very Italian and I love orgeat. I love the texture and the flavor. I made this pistachio orgeat, added Genever and a little Maraschino and I made some sambuca bitters with toasted pistachio, almonds and coffee and let it sit for about three months, so now I had a little bottle of bitters. I had that and some lemon juice and some Genever and it was like, “Oh my god, I love this.” The combination, I just knew he would like it. He’s like, “Girl, that’s my favorite thing you’ve done so far.”

Is that your favorite thing so far too?

I feel like I was lucky. It was a fun, citrusy drink.

What about an amaro cocktail that’s in the regular rotation?

I love Julian’s Fifth Amendment. It’s been on the menu and we kept it on this menu. It’s got the Rammazzotti with Barolo Chinato and Angostura and bourbon. It’s this beautiful, aromatic, sweet bitter stirred drink. It’s just luscious. While it’s not an amaro, because they don’t have to have amaro, but we have so many, so they’re great to work with.

What’s a cocktail that you recommend people make at home?

Well, it depends. What kind of drinker? Somebody who’s really into cocktails already?

Something that most people could handle.

Make an Old Fashioned. That’s just one of the simplest drinks in the world. Go buy some Demerera sugar cubes and crush them up and macerate it with some bitters and go with a bourbon you love, so it’s your choice what flavor profile you want. Make something simple where you can choose your spirit of choice and your sugar of choice, your sweetener.

A Manhattan would be really easy to make at home too.

What’s your preference as far as an Old Fashioned goes?

I prefer an Elmer T. Lee Old Fashioned, or even a simple Buffalo Trace. Take the sugar cube, mash some Ango in it. Make a paste and add your spirit in, add ice and build it in a glass. Let it dilute.

Do you add any sort of garnish?

Just an orange twist.

Where do you like to drink and what do you like to drink when you’re not at the bar?

If I’m going to have a cocktail, I’m a huge Negroni person. That’s probably my favorite drink ever. I think because I’m making drinks every day, I usually just want straight spirit. I just want to taste the ingredients and not put anything added to it and just sip it. I’m a huge tequila person. I love me some Ocho reposado. I love Chinaco reposado, neat. I’m old school about it. Or maybe rye on the rocks. If Rittenhouse is available, I’ll take that.

Where do you like to drink it?

Places where my friends work. If I ever get to go out, which is not that much, I usually go to Harvard and Stone or The Spare Room because Naomi is a great friend of mine, and Harvard and Stone, I could end up seeing Fernie or Mia, Nate, Francois. It’s one of the perks, seeing your friends, but it’s like home. It’s comfortable.

If you were only going to have one more cocktail, would it be a Negroni?

Does it have to be a cocktail?


Yes, I would have a Negroni, absolutely.

Who would you let make it?

Chad Solomon…No, I would want to make it.

If it had to be somebody else…

To make my Negroni? Yeah, it’s Chad, or Julian. Maybe they could do it together. That would be heavenly.


Joshua Lurie

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

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