What do you think are some trademarks of your bartending style?
Fun, I want to have fun. I want to keep it fresh. Definitely I’m very inspired by the markets in L.A. We’re really spoiled with all the seasonal stuff, like dragon fruit and the great figs. We’re really, really lucky. Technique. I like a good flow. I watched a great video of Scott Baird and Willy Shine. They talked about “the dance,” and for the longest time I couldn’t really sum it up, and I watched this video and they talked about “the dance.” That’s really what it is. You start to get this great flow. You stir and how you’re interacting with your guests, and then the money and the beer. It’s very fluid, and I think it doesn’t happen right away for people, but once you get to that point where everything comes together, and you’ve found your dance and your flow, that becomes part of your style.
How much creative freedom do you have? Are you able to contribute cocktails to the menus of the two bars that you work at?
What’s a recent example?
For Black Market, when we did our training – what’s good about working with Pablo and Steve is that they want everybody to have input. It’s a collaborative effort, which to me is really inspiring. We did a class on different cocktails one day and we started talking about daiquiris, which is like the simplest cocktail to make, sugar, lime and then usually white rum. So we started playing with aguardiente, which is the national spirit of Colombia. It’s really, really good in a daiquiri. I made it and it’s on the menu. I think it’s a really fun, funky refreshing drink.
Then I did a cocktail called Sweet Valley Rye, which is kind of ha ha funny. Then Baby’s First Bourbon here, which is probably one of our biggest sellers, which I started working on about a year ago.
What was your thought process on that, or inspiration?
I wish I could remember the name of the book. It’s a tiny little old school cocktail book from the ’20s. They have a whole front section of non-alcoholic drinks. I kind of was just flipping through, because a lot of times when I was working at Soho House, I’d get, “I don’t drink. What can you make me?” I’d run out of ideas so fast, so I started paging through and they did this lemonade with orgeat. I was like, “Oh, this sounds really yummy.” I started playing with it a little bit and I was like, “This would be even better with some Bulleitt bourbon.” So I started playing around with simple syrup versus regular sugar, specs and stuff, and then I was working on it one night at Big Bar, and I gave it to Dan Long, and I was like, “It’s so close, it’s so close.” Then I put crushed ice and bitters and then Baby’s First Bourbon was born. It’s funny because Pablo had a very similar cocktail and we kind of married them together. There’s nothing original. Everything, for the most part, has been done. It’s just reinventing.
What about naming cocktails?
It’s the best…I did a menu a couple weeks ago, and I did a Leblon Cachaca cocktail, and it was a caipirinha with strawberries. What’s a good name? Leblon Walks into a Bar. It’s funny. I had a girl call me the other day and she’s like, “That is the funniest name I’ve ever heard.” It’s fun. It’s a good way to stretch your creativity, I suppose.
What’s the biggest challenge in bartending?
The biggest challenge is keeping it fresh. As far as naming cocktails, coming up with cocktails, different ingredients, finding some new flair or technique, it’s just keeping everything maintained and up to speed. You never want to get stale. Sometimes, it’s like, “Do I have it in me today?” I think that keeps me motivated at the same time. Challenge and motivation keeps you going throughout the day.
What do you enjoy about doing cocktail competitions? It seems like you enter a lot these days.
I’ve done three so far. I did Disaronno at the end of January, which I totally blacked out, because I don’t remember anything that I did. 42 Below in January, which I did really well. And then Bombay Sapphire, which I did really well. I like it because it brings all the elements I talked about earlier to a different level, not that it’s better or anything, but you’re really being showcased, and I think it’s such a good way to show different markets – especially when I did Vegas – to show off to different markets the things that we’re doing in L.A. And you really have to represent either the bar you’re coming from or city or if you move on, the country, but to me it’s still bringing fun. Fun, dedication, technique and stuff together. It reminds me of being in R&D bar. That’s what people asked me in Vegas, “Weren’t you nervous?” No, actually I was comfortable on the big, gigantic stage because it reminds me of being in R&D. “So, Josh, this is what I’m doing.” We laugh about stuff and I shake and we talk about the drink, and you enjoy yourself, it’s a little bit of education, and it’s a good time.
Were you that comfortable before R&D bar?
My first night back there, I was really nervous, because I’d never done – you’re literally showcasing yourself – you invite the people you want to come in – it’s your entire venue and you really have to earn it. At first I was really nervous, but I think once I sort of got the hang of it – because this place is high volume – so you also have to kind of figure out, “How do I do these great craft cocktails, but also high volume?” There’s a lot that I learned in the first month or so that helped me create my niche back there.
You’re working behind the bar five nights a week. What do you like drinking when you’re not working?
If I go to visit some of my friends, I just taste what they’re working on. I went down to Sotto and Picca recently, the night that Kate launched her new menu. She’s just putting out little sips of this and that. I just want to be really supportive of what people are concocting.
If you’re at home, what would you be drinking? Would it even be alcohol?
I think because I’m in it so much, at home, not really. Last night with friends I had – I can never remember the bottle – but this big white and blue ceramic bottle – and I’ve had it before – I’d have to text my friend – a beautiful anejo. Sip on that sitting on the porch, talking about life.
What’s a cocktail you suggest people make at home that a lot of people can handle?
A Manhattan is so easy and just delicious.
How do you prefer your Manhattan?
2-1-2. Area code. New York. I like it with rye. Rye is the way it traditionally should be, but it really offsets the sweet vermouth and gives it this really nice spice. Even with Old Overholt, which is a pretty run of the mill rye, it’s delicious. The Sazerac Rye is excellent, but up.
If you could only have one more cocktail, what would it be?
This question. Huh. I would say a Jack Rose.
It’s super drinkable, lime, grenadine and Applejack. It’s really drinkable, it’s classic, a man or a woman could drink it. You know what I mean? It’s just one of those great cocktails. I just like it. It’s really classic.
Who would make it for you?
Who would make it for me? That’s a good question. I think I would have Dan Long make it for me.
I really enjoy watching him work. Everybody that I’m surrounded by really puts a lot of love into it, but he’s one in particular that just really puts his love into drinks.