For our second guest on “Learning from the Pros”, we’re excited to introduce you to Jay from the Roosevelt Room. I come to this bar very frequently because it happens to be right across from my office, and Jay is my favorite bartender. My most fond memory of him was when I came in by myself, retracing my steps from the night before and looking for my credit card when he convinced me to stay for a round of drinks which subsequently lead to many more. As the most charming and goofy bartender in town, he makes you feel like you’ve known him for a while during your first encounter with him. He made me a Naked and Famous (a cross between the Last Word and a Paper Plane) and we chatted about his perspectives on bartending.
What was the hardest thing to master during your training?
I came from a different style of bartending, so everything I had to learn was fairly new and thus difficult. The bar I came from catered to the masses and was the fast-paced with mixers type. I felt like a fish out of water when I started here.
As for specifics, I would say the ambidextrous stirring and shaking, double jigger skills, and learning how to be efficient with tools to prevent having to wash things when it’s not required. Even after our training, we’ve been in constant learning mode because new products are always coming out and we need to blind taste them all. For example, if a customer comes in and challenges us to make a drink with a specific whiskey, we need to know how that whiskey will play in a cocktail. The sugar content might be different, it might mask the Angostura… each whiskey is different in that way.
What’s your favorite cocktail?
I don’t necessarily have a favorite cocktail because I always opt to trying new ones. We just went to an Employee’s Only in Miami and I ordered a Hurricane which was the best Hurricane I’ve ever had. Instead of ordering the same thing wherever I go, I like switching it up and refining my palate.
Where do you draw inspiration from when creating cocktail recipes?
What I’ve seen, what I’ve heard, what I’ve read… a little bit of everything and everybody that I encounter. There’s definitely a lot of great bartenders out there that are constantly raising the bar, and my owner (Justin Lavenue) is one of them. He was named the 2015 Most Imaginative Bartender from Bombay Sapphire for creating the Poet’s Muse and is a big inspiration. I was also inspired during my visit to Employees Only because they don’t use jiggers. They gauge the amount of each ingredient by looking at how far up the liquid is in a pint glass, which I thought was out of the box thinking.
What is your favorite spirit to work with?
Tequila. I specifically like Don Julio, made from 100% blue weber agave.
What’s your definition of a balanced cocktail?
That’s decided by whoever is drinking it because it’s all about the preference of the consumer. Everyone has different palates… some people like a boozy and unbalanced cocktail while others prefer a less boozy and more refreshing cocktail. If they enjoy it, then it’s balanced in my opinion.
The Cigar Box
(Del Maguey Vida mezcal, smoked black tea syrup, lavender bitters, tobacco bitters, flamed cinnamon stick)
The most important lesson you’ve learned about bartending?
Hospitality, hands down. We’re the ones that shake the tins and do the flair, but without the customers we have nobody to cater to. When people come to the bar, some want to unwind and others want to socialize. The bartender’s job is to be the extra cushion to help them do what they came here to do. If the customer is having a bad day, we try to pick up on that and cheer them up with a drink on us. Small gestures like that make a long lasting impression.
Do you have any tricks to keep things running smoothly during busy times?
Making as few steps as possible and being efficient. Utilizing your eyes and multitasking. I’m always watching who comes into the bar and checking on who needs a refill while mixing (sometimes multiple drinks at a time). The bar has a heartbeat and you have to keep up with the rhythm.
A cocktail recipe you’re proud of?
Still working on that! I’m working on a new cocktail for the renovation that’s coming up, we’re overhauling our current cocktail board and adding new house creations. Here at Roosevelt Room, whoever is making the recipe usually makes between 2-6 variations because we have our staff on a panel discussing what they like or dislike about it, and that feedback is used to tweak the drink. Nobody gets to keep their original recipe because everyone has different palates. The one I’m working on is in the closing stage, garnish wise and it’ll be ready in about 2-3 months.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Hopefully traveling. I want to do more pop-up bars and guest bartending to meet new people and network. Guest bartending is such a cool thing! Justin (the owner) has guest bartended at many bars in London, and it’s almost like studying abroad. You learn different techniques at each bar, and when you come back you can put all of that knowledge to good use. Here we have bartenders coming in from LA and California pretty frequently. There’s lots of knowledge sharing going on, and knowledge is power.
Naked and Famous
The Naked and Famous
- 3/4 oz Del Maguey Vida mezcal
- 3/4 oz lemon juice
- 3/4 oz Aperol
- 3/4 oz Yellow Chartreuse
We ended the night with a round of Angostura Bitters shots which were surprisingly tasty. If you live in Austin, don’t forget to check out The Roosevelt Room for amazing classics and house creations.