How are you able to maintain balance in your life, if you’re even able to, between Copa and these consulting projects?
Well, knock on wood, Copa’s doing very well. It is up and running and there’s not always the need for me to be there. Usually I don’t sacrifice any time. For this one and for Neapolis, I don’t sacrifice any time for Copa because I was able to do it during the daytime, and the training for here has been done at Copa. So that’s helped me out a lot. As I was saying, I have a very strong team at Copa. I have all new guys a year ago and now we’re going to change the menu at Copa at the beginning of June. Copa’s doing very well, maybe even too well. We do a lot of volume. We average 1500 people on the weekend, just on the weekend. It’s a lot for the size of our place. For the capacity, which is 150 people – we never fill that, we always keep it 120, 130 – to ensure the best service than we can. It’s a different team from what it used to be, but right now we’re going to put back the market menu, which I took away for awhile just because the new guys, I don’t think were ready to go for that. I think they would have been overwhelmed a little bit. I think we’re going to launch the first week of June.
What do you look for when you hire a bartender, whether it’s for Copa or for a consulting gig?
For Copa, it’s different. For Copa, I look at the whole picture. For Copa, I care less about the knowledge and more about personality, while for consulting, I’m only focusing on knowledge. Skill, bartender skill, and knowledge about spirits and cocktails. I let the people who own the place judge personality. Thanks to Marcos, because of The Sporting Life and the bartending community he created, I was able to get a great staff here…I recommended about 10 bartenders from The Sporting Life, and I think they got 15 from Craigslist, but I’m pretty sure if not 10 out of 10 from The Sporting Life, at least eight of them will get the gig.
As far as naming cocktails, what’s your general approach?
Cocktail 1, Cocktail 2, Cocktail 3. That’s the most difficult part for me, because, believe it or not, English is not my first language, and for Neapolis, I’m going to help them out, because I’m going to use some Italian names. I like not too serious, meaning, like at Copa, now, I divide the menu in three. I have the Classic Cocktails From a Drunk Italian Bartender, which is pretty much a spinoff of popular cocktails. Instead of a Lemon Drop, I have the Lemon Flop. Instead of the Gold Rush, I have the Gold Brush. Etc., etc. Then I like to divide the cocktail menu also in style. So the sours, Shaken, and the aromatic, Stirred. Sour, at Copa, I name it The Fast, and for the stirred ones, I name it The Furious, like the movie, The Fast and The Furious. You know I love motorcycles. And all the names come from the motorcycle races, the motorcycle GP. Nicknames, or important races, and that’s why I named them at Copa. For [SHOREbar], it was all the owners’ words. I just numbered the cocktails and they named them. For Trattoria Neapolis, I’m going to help them, because I’m going to use some Italian names, so that’s going to be easy for me.
What type of music do you like to listen to behind the bar, if any?
Still, it depends on what type of restaurant or bar it is. I like European lounge when I’m at Copa. I would assume I would like some Italian music or jazz at Neapolis. And here I think would be a loungey mix.
Is there somebody who you’ve never worked with behind the bar that you would really like to work with?
Team up with or just work one night?
Sure. Millions of them. There are my two mentors, Francesco Lafranconi and Salvatore Calabrese. I’d love to work with them. In L.A., I’ve worked with everybody. Marcos worked with me at The Doheny. Damian [Windsor] was with me at Copa, he helped me open Copa. Julian [Cox] came and helped me at Copa a few times. I went to the Test Kitchen a few times. John Coltharp helped me out before he went to The Tasting Kitchen. Oh, the guy from Portland?
Yeah. I really would love to work with him. Who else? I never worked with Matt Biancaniello. I would love to work with him once. I would like to work with everybody, but I really, really would love to work with Francesco and Salvatore. You kidding me? I would love to work one night at Tommy’s restaurant in San Francisco. I would die for that. I would like to work with Jeff Morgenthaler in Portland one night. That would be amazing as well. And Jamie Boudreau in Seattle, I really would love that. Dammit, I never thought about it.
Now they’ll know…If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, primarily to drink cocktails and spirits, what city would you go to, and why?
I know I’m going to Alaska on a motorcycle trip, so I’m going to drink on the way up there, go to Vancouver, small towns. I don’t know if you know, but I love riding motorcycles. Two years ago, I took a motorcycle tour of small artisanal distilleries. I went to visit artisanal distilleries in the Western states. I had some great cocktails in Denver. Of course Seattle, Portland, we know about it. Silverton, where Montanya Rum is, it’s incredible. It’s a 500-person town, they have the distillery, the pot still, in the middle of the bar, and the guy behind the bar was doing fresh ingredient cocktails with their rum. It was impressive. Their whole house used to be a whorehouse. That was great. I would go anywhere. It doesn’t matter, because drinking culture is different everywhere. Asia, Australia, North and South America, Europe. I hear Berlin is doing amazing right now. Madrid is doing amazing right now. Of course London, Dublin, Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Paris, Italy for sure. Italy’s booming as well. Moscow, I heard they’re putting a lot of money into cocktails right now, and a lot of effort. “Country you go, culture you find,” we say in Italy. If I go in Germany, probably I would drink a bunch of beers, in Italy, more wine or Cognacs, Calvados.