Aidan Demarest, The Business Barman in L.A.
So you think you have a full in-box? Well, meet Aidan Demarest. In addition to being a devoted family man, the Prince of Los Angeles is a brand ambassador for all-world elit by Stolichnaya; the owner of the recently opened bar, Neat; a noted spirits authority and judge at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and co-owner of an esteemed beverage consultancy named Liquid Assets. So how does he do it? Demarest is quick to admit that he doesn’t sleep much.
“No matter what’s scheduled in my day, I find the time to make my family breakfast and go for a run,” Demarest says. “After that, I let circumstances take over and go with the flow. It certainly helps that I have a loving, caring family, a great partner in the consultancy—Marcos Tello—an outstanding bartending staff and seriously capable managers. Actually, I’m the probably weakest link in the whole equation.”
The Boston native started working in the business when he was in high school. Over the ensuing 20+ years, Demarest worked in every front of house position while pursuing a career in acting. He was then hired as the opening general manager of Seven Grand Whiskey Bar in downtown LA, right when the craft cocktail movement stormed onto the national scene. It was exactly what Demarest was looking for.
“It was like an euphony for me and I took to it immediately,” confides Demarest. “I literally poured myself into the art and science of crafting cocktails. I was always a spirits enthusiast, but after that I was enthralled by every type of distilled spirit we carried. I’ve been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and seize opportunities as they came along.”
After the Seven Grand, Demarest became the general manager and beverage director at a series of high-end bars and lounges, beginning with The Doheny in downtown LA and then a two-year stint at The Edison, a subterranean haunt located in the basement of a long defunct generating plant. He followed those successful engagements by periods managing the First & Hope Supper Club and The Spare Room in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
After helping to open seven highly successful cocktail lounges over the past seven years, Demarest figured it was time to move out on his own. He sized up numerous locations before choosing to open a bar dubbed Neat, in a 3,500-square-foot space in Glendale. Having been intimately involved in the operation of some of the most popular lounges in Los Angeles, he figured it was time to give the town something entirely new and innovative.
According to Demarest, the beverage program at Neat is European in design. “Our focus at the bar is on spirits, not cocktails. If someone orders a Jack and Coke, for example, the whiskey will be served in one glass with a glass of ice and the cola served on the side. We don’t stock Martini glasses, or any stemware for that matter—only rocks glasses. We’re here to promote the spirit experience. This style of service creates conversations and sparks talk about spirits. I think we've talked enough about drinks at this point. Don't you?”
Demarest admits to being nervous about launching a conceptually radical establishment. “It’s stressful taking the path less traveled. I’ve been worried about whether people were going to find the concept appealing. But I've learned from experience that once you’re committed, select your team, refine your concept and then go for it full bore without hesitation or reservation.”
After being open eight months, the exit polls indicate that Demarest has again got a hit on his hands. Increasing head counts and a positive cash flow suggest that nightlifers are interested in something other than cocktails.
“I was in this business for 15 years before craft cocktails burst back onto the scene,” says Demarest. “I’ve always been keenly interested in spirits, even back in the days when I was pumping and dumping in Sunset Boulevard bars as an actor. For me the natural order of things is to not bastardize a beautiful spirit in a cocktail, even a well-constructed one. It appears that many people feel similarly.”
Having spent the majority of his life working on-premise, Demarest has accrued the equivalent of a master’s degree in the beverage business. As such, he has a rare depth of knowledge and insight into the business. When asked what kind of things he sees beverage operators do that make him cringe, he answered without hesitation.
“Mistreating their staff is the biggest mistake bar or restaurant owners can make. Operators who believe they can flip their staff and clientele without consequence are wrong and fail. I consider my greatest achievement in this business to be the army of bartenders who have worked for me and now run or own some the best bars in the country. Whenever I see a successful bar fail it’s invariably due to the management disrespecting the staff or not giving them full credit for the business’s success.”
Demarest admits that owning and operating a bar requires an inordinate investment of time. “These days I could work 24 hours a day just to stay slightly behind. To be honest, I like opening other people’s bars better than my own. You get to sleep more.”