Marcos Tello, bartender and partner with Aidan Demarest in Southern California-based Demarest Tello Liquid Assets, also leads the bar team at 1886 Bar at The Raymond in Los Angeles, where the summer menu caught some eyes for its four–way structure: 16 drinks split under categories of Regional, Seasonal, Shaken and Stirred. We checked in with Marcos to see what this sort of menu demands, and provides.
Mix: At 1886 Bar, you've broken the cocktail menu into four categories: Regional, Seasonal, Shaken and Stirred. What are the benefits and challenges of doing a changing menu under those restrictions?
Tello: The benefits for us [1886 bartenders] are that we get to play in four different genres. The benefit for the guest is that it eliminates putting cocktails into spirit categories, otherwise people might just order off the "Vodka" section. However, no matter what categories the list is broken into, each new list for the season will always have a seasonal twist. For instance, you'll never see a Flip or a Toddy on the summer menu. We fully believe that people enjoy their drinks more when they are applicable to the season. The challenge thus becomes that we have to do our homework and come up with 16 new drinks each season. We start working a month out, and sometimes it gets down to the wire as we try dozens of variations of every drink and have to make sure that it can be produced with speed and consistency.
Mix: There's a bit of Tiki going down on the current menu: Do you see those drinks picking up interest on the West Coast?
Tello: I do see these drinks picking up momentum on the West Coast as Tiki was invented here. More importantly, Tiki was invented in Los Angeles, and me being an L.A. native and all, you will always see a bit of influence of it on my menus. And really, how fitting for the long, hot Cali summer?
Mix: You're also sharing the limelight with some other bartenders, featuring drinks created by Francesco Lafranconi, Julie Reiner and Phil Ward. Does that sort of homage help build customer interest for your place?
Tello: These little "shout outs" are great because it lets me give credit to the people who inspire and influence me. I didn't get to this place in my career by myself, and this lets me give a little back to all the peeps that helped me along the way. And also, some of these drinks are just downright "iconic," so I feel it's my job to share them with the rest of the world.
Mix: I'm most taken by the "Fields of Aberdeen," which combines Macallan, Highland Park and Laphroaig. Can you get customers interested in Scotch whisky cocktails?
Tello: We definitely can, but I can't take credit for this one. This is all Lacey Murillo. She literally took three of her favorite single malts and combined them into a vatted malt that's perfect for a Swizzle. We hope we can turn people on to more robust Scotch flavors this way!
Mix: You've also tweaked old recipes with your Cherry Daiquiri, Bourbon Peach Smash and Pina Colada. Is it time for drinks like these to get the same serious consideration and treatment that the pre-Prohibition cocktails have?
Tello: Well, as for all the drinks mentioned, at least their root is pre-Prohibition, but again the seasonal twist is important. I don't think we need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to drinks — sometimes all you gotta do is add a little fruit. As with cherries and rum, peaches and bourbon and who doesn't love a Pina Colada, even if it's just a guilty pleasure?
Mix: It seems to me you've hit on a wealth of possibilities with the "Regional" portion of the menu. Have you found many Los Angeles-area cocktails to work with, either reintroducing or reworking for the contemporary palate?
Tello: Again, since I am a Los Angeles native, you almost always will find some Los Angeles-born cocktails on my menus. And in doing research, I've come across more and more of them. I have a database of around 100 drinks born from Los Angeles and am always finding more. So I plug them in when appropriate.
Mix: What's your favorite drink right now?
Tello: The Cherry Daiquiri. It's perfect for the hot weather and was the first drink served to me at Milk & Honey by one of my favorite bartenders, Sam Ross. It's quite literally the drink that set me on my path!