Interview: bartender Tim Stevens (Prohibition)

Bartenders San Diego

Tim Stevens toasts to tequila, and fellow bartender Ian Ward, at Cantina Mayahuel.

I first met Prohibition head bartender Tim Stevens at Cantina Mayahuel duing an after party for the San Diego Spirits Festival. It was also interesting to learn that he’s also President of the San Diego chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild. We later caught up with the Buffalo native via e-mail, and Stevens better explained his background and approach.

How did you initially become interested in cocktails and spirits? Also, which interest came first?

My interest came first in the industry actually. Barbacking was my first job and I have never left the business. Back in ’91 when I started there was not as much focus on the “craft” if you will. It was still about making relationships with customers and hard work.

A full passion for spirits and cocktails started when I opened my first bar (Iberia, also in Buffalo) and bore the entire load of purchasing and menu development.

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

My first cocktail memory was when my Father ordered me a Manhattan at a wedding party. He explained why it was a man’s drink and how it should be made. This was before I even set foot in a bar of any sort, and I already had a handle on stirring.

What was your first bar job, and how did that come about?

It was a place called the Atomic in Buffalo, on a street named Chippewa which is now the main bar drag I guess (I prefer Allen St.). We were one of three bars there at the time and it was shady to say the least. Really honed my people skills at a young age you could say.

I have recollections of handguns being left in news paper behind the bar for me when the owners were away. I was 18, no biggie.

I got the job through a friend of a friend that worked at the Icon, a truly amazing club for the day, of course I had to work for free for a bit to get the foot in.

How did the Prohibition opportunity come about for you?

I got the job at Prohibition through being a wise ass I suppose. I was very excited about the prospect of having a proper cocktail lounge here in San Diego, however when it opened I was a bit underwhelmed. Instead of leaving and running my mouth all over town about it, I decided to go there every night and sit in. Finally after I laughed for about an hour over the thought of them selling bottle service, they said “Think you can do better?” and here we are. We learn every day down there and continue to put smiles on most peoples faces. With the constant support of our owners and a more and more open minded city we continue to press on.

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

No artificial flavor, wow factor above 5, doesn’t take 8 minutes to make, balance, and good representation of the spirit. Oh ya, no pay outs to get on the list, if we use and name your product it is because we love it and respect it.

What’s the most recent cocktail you created, and what was your inspiration?

We create new drinks nightly as per the customer so this could be a long answer. That being said, inspiration come from the individual palette of the consumer and the quality of the spirit. If you’re trying to get a cocktail out of me, try this one.

The Bidwell

2 oz. Sazerac Rye
1 oz. Cocchi Barolo Chinato
2 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters
This is the perfect example of letting quality spirits shine, they play off each other and complement wonderfully. Simple and delicious.

What do you look for when hiring somebody to work behind your bar?



Joshua Lurie

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

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