A couple weeks ago we met Abraham Bebell, the bar manager at Oak in the Design District. At the end of the interview, I asked Abe who in the local restaurant and bar scene I should meet next. He told me about Rich Allison, bar manager at the very popular Victor Tango's on Henderson. He quickly professed to his love for all booze and copped to a small drinking problem, so naturally we were smitten. Let's meet him, eh?
How did you get started in the drink-slinging business? I first got behind a bar about 12 years ago, the way a lot of guys come up through the ranks: at Macaroni Grill.
Being a bartender has really changed over the past few years. You even have a fancy new name... I don't like the name "mixologist." We're all just bartenders. There are some of us who are more passionate and like to evolve and do new things, but that's all.
How has the booze scene changed locally? I think it's made a big transition. We're just starting to see the craft style of cocktails really become popular here. Plenty of guys have making real craft drinks for at least 15 years, like Charlie at the Windmill on Maple. But now there are newer guys doing what he's been doing a long time.
How do you teach someone to have the right palate to make good drinks? Aromatics are a really big deal. It's about being able to smell the balance of a cocktail without having to use jiggers. All palates are different. It's sort of like tasting a wine, where I may taste one fruit and you taste another. I think as far as palate is concerned it's more about the balance of a cocktail and being able to make sure that no one component sticks out over another. But as far as palate training goes, I'm not sure if that can even be accomplished. It's just takes time and huge alcohol problems.
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What are some of the most important factors in being able to manage a bar properly? Patience and being humble.
What drink do wish people knew more about? Mezcal. I hope it will be the spirit of the year this year. The thing about mezcal is that instead of just using the agave part of the plant they actually roast the rind. So it gives it a smoky, sort of roasted finish. And that scares a lot of people away, but I created a drink and put it up on the board last week that made it more user friendly. It had Saint Germain, yellow chartreuse and fresh agave, which made it a real bright and refreshing. It also sort of tucked away that smoky note but didn't completely disregard it. People loved it. It's a very versatile spirit -- sort of the more mature tequila, almost like scotch.
How should one approach a mezcal? Slam it or take it slow? Depends on what day of the week it is and what you have to wake up for the next morning. Different strokes for different folks. Honestly, you don't want to slam it. I don't want to sound bougey, but aromatics are such an important part of a good cocktail, a lot of your taste buds are aromatic. Take that deep breath in through your nose as your drinking it and you're going to taste different flavor profiles in that cocktail that you wouldn't otherwise.
What ingredient are you sick of? I wish people would spend more time making fresh, real grenadine. A lot of people pull out that tacky red plastic bottle with the roses on it. That's not even real grenadine. I make our own grenadine here, and I wish people would get back to the roots of mixers. Other than that, there's not a whole lot I'm sick of. I love it all.