Jason Kosmas found his calling in booze while tending bar in New York City at Pravada, Employees Only and Macao Trading Co, the last two of which he co-owns. He's also penned two books, You Didn't Hear it From Us, and Speakeasy: The Employees Only Guide to Classic Cocktails Reimagined.
Jason's wife is originally from Dallas, and the couple moved their young family here for a little more elbow room a few years back. After stints at Neighborhood Services and Bolsa, he's now the executive beverage director at Marquee Grill & Bar. He has a quiet and shy demeanor, and despite his popularity in the industry, you'd never know it if he was serving you a beer. He'd just smile, maybe chat a bit or possibly tell you the title of that song.
We spoke to him recently about bartending, booze, hangovers and more.
"The word mixologist is thrown around a lot, but I've always thought that being a mixologist is just one part of being a bartender. There are actually two other important parts. Being a sage is also part of it because once you're behind the bar people just look at you differently. You're also like an urban shaman in a way. People ask all kinds of random questions, like what song is playing.
"People ask for advice a lot too. It's kind of odd.
"Different bartenders have different degrees of things they're good at. The bartender you love the most might also be the slowest bartender you've ever seen. Some guys are like the old record store guys -- they know so much about music that they don't like music that anyone else likes. There are a lot who are really into the mixology thing and it's common that they give what they want instead of giving what you want.
"You can make the best drink in the world, but if you don't give it to the right person, it doesn't make sense. You kind of have to listen to people. Usually when people order they're giving you a lot of information you have to sift through.
"I'll ask, 'What do you like to drink?' They'll say, 'I dunno. Whatever you like to drink.' Okay. Fine, I'll get you a shot of Jameson and a beer.
"The Bon Vivant's Companion Or, How to Mix Drinks by Jerry Thomas taught me about high-end drinks. When I first got into mixology I learned from Dale DeGroff and he loaned me a copy of this book -- it was like a 100-year-old book. I looked for my own copy and found one after about a year. It was a reprint that was published during Prohibition and it had a whole bunch of history about Jerry Thomas. So, it's a cocktail book but also a history lesson written in the 1920's.
"I also really like one of Trader Vic's first books, because in the intro he talks about bartending and it's very timeless because it was written in the '50's. And when you read it you realize that bars have never really changed. The one line I remember most is 'There's nothing worse then when a guy walks in with a Champagne appetite on a beer budget.'
"I feel like there's a big process of forgetting yourself in bartending. There's a stereotype of the ego-driven bartender and I think it's sometimes deserved. But the ones who are able to get beyond that tend to be more successful. They have to be able to pull themselves out of the equation and focus more on guests.
"The big part about bartending is the first thing you learn is what to do, but the real experience is knowing what not to do. Talking about politics and religion is a big one ...
"Hangovers suck. It's amazing that you kind of never learn sometimes. Hangovers are a result of stubbornness. If you drink water the entire time you drink, you'll probably be on the good side of things, but after you have a few drink you think, 'Oh, I don't want to drink water.' It's also stubbornness to not stop. Some things never change."
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