Vermont native and former figure skater Kiowa Bryan has been involved with a series of high profile bars and restaurants since arriving in Los Angeles, beginning with CUT Beverly Hills. On November 4, we met at her current place of employment – Eveleigh – prior to service, and Bryan better explained her connection to cocktails and bartending.
What brought you to Los Angeles?
Well, actually, I kind of got the bartending bug in New Jersey. [Coaching figure skating at South Mountain Arena] wasn’t really paying the bills, and there was a restaurant across the street from my apartment, so I got a job hostessing, and serving, then one night it got super busy and the bartender got fired, so they threw me behind the bar. It was like a scene from “Cocktail.” I didn’t know what I was doing and was slammed, in the weeds, and ended up pulling through. I kind of caught the restaurant bug. It was definitely more Alabama Slammers and Long Island Iced Teas. I really enjoyed doing it. I kind of dabbled in writing and acting. I knew that I wanted to live on the West Coast at some point, so five years into it, I was like, “Alright, I want to try the West Coast now.”
Are you still acting and writing?
I write still, but not so much acting. I do comedic writing here and there.
Do you feel like it helps your writing to work as a bartender?
Well, I feel like we can draw a lot of stories from that because we see interesting scenarios. You never know what’s going to happen behind the bar, or what a guest is going to bring to the plate. There are always some humorous situations.
What was your first bar job once you got to Los Angeles?
I’ve been all over the place. I started at CUT in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. I worked there for three years. It was a Wolfgang Puck restaurant. Then I went to Fraiche in Culver City, worked there for awhile, and then I opened SoHo House, worked there for six months, and then Fraiche wanted me back, so they offered me the bar manager position, to do their whole cocktail program, so I went back to Fraiche and worked there for six months. Then I opened up Lexington Social House, did their cocktail program there, then this opportunity presented itself. I’ve always been a huge fan of Dave [Kupchinsky]’s work, so as soon as I had the opportunity, I jumped at it.
Would you say you’ve had any mentors along the way?
Yeah, definitely Chris Ojeda at SoHo House. He introduced me to the whole structure of a classic mixology program, definitely engrained a lot of the basics into me, and then I’ve always been a big-time fan of Dave Kupchinsky. I just think he’s brilliant and very detail oriented. So coming here, just working under him, has been a dream to me.
What’s the criteria for a cocktail that goes on the menu at Eveleigh?
We change our cocktails seasonally, but not a lot, because we are really focusing on doing daily specials. We have this program on Sundays called Farmers Market Sunday, and we rotate bartenders. There are four of us, so we do it once a month. We work on the menu all week. Actually, all month, you get ideas, and then you go to the farmers market to see what’s in season and try some stuff out. When your Sunday comes along, you do four cocktails, and we carry those throughout the week. I think we’re pretty much one of the only places in L.A. that you can almost get a different drink menu every week. We definitely have our classics, big sellers, that we carry seasonally. Right now we have a lot more fall flavors, like an Antigua Marbosa, which is like a fall daiquiri. It’s Demerara rum with Angostura bitters, lime juice, cane syrup and nutmeg on top, served on the rocks. It’s delicious. That’s a variation on a daiquiri, but we’ll make it whatever season it is, like a fall twang to it.
What’s the last Farmers Market Sunday that you did?
I did kind of a For The Boys the menu. There’s this cocktail that one of the servers was telling me about. I guess in one of the wars, in South Africa, they gave kids gunpowder mixed with cocaine, and called it brown brown to help them go into battle. He said, “You should take some coffee grinds and call it brown brown and use it in a drink.” That inspired me to do a whiskey sour but with High West rye, instead of simple syrup I used honey syrup, lemon juice, egg white and chocolate chile bitters. Then I shook that up and served it in a nine-ounce rocks glass, without rocks, and put a stripe of coffee on it. The aromatics of the coffee really complemented the chocolate chile bitters. With the coffee and the egg whites, it was like a delicious dessert. That would probably be my favorite on that menu. They were all war oriented names.
I think it was in “Blood Diamond” or “Hotel Rwanda,” where they had a scene with the children doing brown brown.
I can’t remember, but that was one of those weird inspirations, sometimes you get. I’m working on a drink right now, since this Sunday I’m doing a Farmers Market menu, and it’s called Turkey Dinner. It’s Wild Turkey, cranberry and Cynar, because that’s a vegetable at turkey dinner.
Is that the only Thanksgiving themed cocktail that will be on the menu?
I’m still working on the menu. I might put one on there, which is like one of my favorites I’ve done, a brown butter fat washed bourbon with Carpano, sour cherry bitters and Laphroaig rinse, then I stir and strain that.
Is there a bartender you haven’t worked with that you’d really like to work with?