A Former Pianist Makes Waves Behind the Bar at Victor Tangos

Matt Ragan has done amazing things as GM and beverage manager at Victor Tangos. Not only is the Henderson Avenue locale still a hot spot serving unique and delicious food and drink after eight years of business — a miracle in a market like Dallas — but they continue to keep things interesting. An impetus behind recent progress behind their bar is the new bar manager, Andrew Stofko. Since he took the reins, all eyes have been on him since changes like this don’t happen often at VT.

For the last 11 years, Stofko has been trying to rediscover his “creative element” behind the bar after forgoing a 20-year career in piano performance. He started at Victor Tangos as a bar back, where he watched, learned and practiced. This took him up the ranks from bar back to bartender to bar manager —it’s as close to a Cinderella story as you’ll get in the bar industry, except he actually worked for it. Cinderella just kind of lay back and her fairy godmother did all the work. Lazy bippity-boppity-bitch.

Seoul-born Stofko often brainstorms with Victor Tangos’s executive chef, Kirstyn Brewer, to dream up flavors to pair. Some make sense, some are a bit outrageous. Some include radicchio as a cocktail garnish. He also incorporates interesting elements into his cocktails, like vanilla pepper on the rim of his Gimme Some Shugga and kale and kombucha in his Hipster Elixir.

We sat down with Stofko to learn about his drink-making process.

How do you come up with flavor profiles?
I’ve always been trained to choose a focus, then build the drink around that focus. I suppose I try to pay attention to food. (I spend more time in grocery stores than I care to admit.) Seeing it helps me think about it. The way cocktails are moving, the things we eat are easily made into things we can drink. So I pull a lot of inspiration from things I like to eat.

If a flavor profile works in food, it follows that the cocktail would work, too, right? 

Not all flavor pairings work the way I’d like them to. In fact a lot of them don’t. Furthermore, the trial and error can take a while too, even if the idea seems obvious. However, the greatest asset I have working at the restaurant is Chef and her thoughts on any ideas. I pose flavor combos to her often, and she’s always honest with me about it. Above all, the cocktail should be drinkable, right? And taste good. I’m interested in making the drink people want to drink again way more than the most geeky or the most outrageously garnished.
Which spirits/flavors do you think will be trending in the coming months?
I feel like I hear or read about a new spirit every day. Aquavits seem to be slowly but surely coming into play. I’ve only seen it used in a couple of places in the city. Citric acid in place of citrus juice, or just non-traditional acids in general. I had an awesome cocktail recently at a tiki event made with mezcal, chia seeds, sugar, citric and malic acid, and it was delicious. On that same note, there are increasingly more nontraditional approaches to tiki cocktails, and Dallas has some fantastic places to drink them.

Are there any flavors you’re hoping to see used in cocktails?
Me personally, I can’t wait for fresh yuzu to be available again. I’m also always looking forward to new savory elements in cocktails, like salts. All the salts. Not that salt is anything new in cocktails, but I have a growing collection of them, and I love any chance to use them in a drink. 

Victor Tangos, 3001 N Henderson Ave.
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