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Meet the Desert’s Top Drink Experts

Written By: Alana Aronson Drinks in Greater Palm Springs
Photographed By: Andrea Domjan, Bianca Simonian and Josie Gonzales 

Greater Palm Springs offers an oasis in the desert around every corner. From our pools to restaurants to shopping destinations and entertainment venues, the paradisal pickings are endless. For the greatest break from the hustle, bustle and heat, who doesn’t adore a refreshing libation? We met with nine of the greatest cocktail curators, beverage connoisseurs, managers and owners of phenomenal establishments in Greater Palm Springs to give you guidance towards the most sought out sips. From their favorite drinks inside and outside of their restaurants, to what keeps them constantly working to create the very best for you, our Drink Experts tell all.

 

Brent Engel, Bar Curator, Rooster and the Pig

Q: If you could drink one thing in Greater Palm Springs for the rest of your life (not from your restaurant) what would it be?

Brent Engel: Hmmm … that’s very difficult. However, I can say that if I could drink at one place in Palm Springs for the rest of my life, it would be Seymour’s in Mr. Lyons Steakhouse. It’s got such a comfortable but strong vibe and the drinks are great. Those bartenders really know what they’re doing.

Q: What are your three can’t-live-without spirits to mix with?

BE: Gin, mezcal and rum. I could live with substituting a good mezcal in almost all drinks that call for whiskey. Smoky mezcals nicely fill in where Islay scotches would traditionally live. Gin can usually satisfy the vodka and aquavit drinks while rum opens all the tiki doors.

Q: What is your favorite drink to make at your restaurant?

BE: Gin gimlet. I’ve never met someone who doesn’t like a classic gimlet.

Q: What makes you, or your establishment stand apart from the rest?

BE: As a team, we have pretty deep experience from many sides of the service industry. Both Tai and myself started as dishwashers. We’re vigorous in justifying everything we do. It all has to make sense on many levels. We consider accessibility, comfort, pricing, utility, and freshness before we move forward with an idea whether it’s regarding the food, drinks, service, or relationships with our suppliers.

Q: Where do you draw inspiration from? How do you exhibit it at work?

BE: I always try to remember that people simply want to go out and have a nice time. We all have the same basic desires. If the food is good, the drinks are satisfying, the service is genuine, and the price is fair, then people will usually be appreciative of a place that puts all those things together. Remember, it’s just dinner. It doesn’t have to blow your mind, it just has to make you feel good.

Rooster and the Pig
356 S Indian Canyon Dr
Palm Springs, CA 92262
760.832.6691

 

Donovan Funkey, Owner, Bar

 

Q: If you could drink one thing in Greater Palm Springs for the rest of your life (not from your restaurant) what would it be?

Donovan Funkey: The Little Owl at Seymour’s. It’s delicious.

Q: What are your three can’t-live-without spirits to mix with?

DF: Whiskey. Always. It’s my favorite spirit. Amaro—amaros can have a lot of different flavor profiles so they’re always fun to add to cocktails. Angostura bitters. You can’t make a proper old fashioned without them—and they’re delicious on their own!

Q: What is your favorite drink to make at your restaurant?

DF: Probably whiskey sours. They’re a bit time consuming but they always initiate crowd comments. People always want to know what drink we are making when we use egg whites.  And it’s super tasty and looks rad.

Q: What makes you, or your establishment stand apart from the rest?

DF: I think we are a happy medium. Part cocktail bar, part high volume party bar.  We make good drinks but don’t take ourselves too seriously

Q: Where do you draw inspiration from? How do you exhibit it at work?

DF: I take inspiration from food. I read a lot of cookbooks and only watch cooking shows on TV. We make a lot of weird cocktails, but you won’t see them that often. If you see some weird green juice or brown syrup behind the bar, ask about it though.

Bar
340 N Palm Canyon Dr
Palm Springs, CA 92262
760.537.7337

 

Ali Mayo, Front of House Manager, La Rue Bistro

 

Q: If you could drink one thing in Greater Palm Springs for the rest of your life (not from your restaurant) what would it be?

Ali Mayo: My current favorite beverage is a wine cocktail—the best of both worlds! Brut sparkling wine, with a Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin float. Sort of my take on a french 75—unbelievably refreshing and perfect for the desert.

Q: What are your top three go-to varietals?

AM: My top three go-to varietals are chardonnay, zinfandel and a good GSM blend. All three are extremely versatile within their varietal, which makes them easy to pair in a variety of ways!

Q: What is your favorite wine at your restaurant and why?

AM: My favorite wine would have to be our Dry Creek Zinfandel—I have always been a zinfandel lover, or better known as a “zinner!” The black pepper spice, mixed with juicy berry flavors always perks my palate!

Q: What makes you, or your establishment, stand apart from the rest?

AM: Our incredible wine list! We have the basic staples that most patrons are familiar with, but also so many that many have never heard of! I promise that we have a wine that would suit everyone’s palate! And, not to mention, a great assortment of draft beers and full bar! We’ve truly got the full gamut.

Q: Where do you draw inspiration from? How do you exhibit it at work?

AM: I draw inspiration from all of the other wine enthusiasts out there! Reading wine spectator and other rating magazines. Taking trips to to wine regions around the world and broadening my horizons, and most of all, continuing to taste! I exhibit my inspiration by trying to engage my customers and educate them on new wines, or even refining their palates on the basics.

La Rue Bistro
78015 Main St Ste 109
La Quinta, CA 92253
760.296.3420

 

Skip Madsen, Brewmeister, La Quinta Brewing Company

 

Q: If you could drink one thing in Greater Palm Springs for the rest of your life (not from your establishment) what would it be?

Skip Madsen: I would drink the Mai Tai at Bobby Mao’s if I could not drink my own beer.

Q: What are your three go-to beers?

SM: My three go-to beers are: Sundaze Session IPA—it is a great beer in the summer. It is a very light beer with plenty of hop flavor. Koffi Porter. (It is) strong and dark; It is a very good beer after a meal. Even Par IPA—a citrusy IPA with plenty of malt flavor to balance the abundance of hops.

Q: What is your favorite brew at your establishment?

SM: Even Par IPA.

Q: What makes you, or your establishment stand apart from the rest?

SM: Well, I have been brewing beer for professionally for 25 years and have consistently won medals for top quality beers. We at La Quinta just won a gold medal at the World Beer Cup for our Bourbon Barrel Koffi Porter!

Q: Where do you draw inspiration from? How do you exhibit it at work?

SM: I draw my inspiration from other brewers that I have worked with and the new innovations in the brewing industry. I try to have every beer I make be the best one ever!

Photoshoot Location:
Old Town Taproom
78065 Main St Ste 100
La Quinta, CA 92253
760.972.4251

La Quinta Brewing Company
77917 Wildcat Dr
Palm Desert, CA 92211
760.200.2597

 

Frank Castleforte, Lead Bartender, The Lookout Lounge in Peaks Restaurant  

 

Q: If you could drink one thing in Greater Palm Springs for the rest of your life (not from your restaurant) what would it be?

Frank Castleforte: A prickly pear margarita, it is the perfect libation after work.

Q: What are your three can’t-live-without spirits to mix with?

FC: Elderflower, it is the perfect finish to our handcrafted cocktails. Any flavored vodkas, they are great to mix with, as well as great on their own. Rye, a cousin of bourbon, every bar needs a quality rye.

Q: What is your favorite drink to make at your restaurant?

FC: The perfect drink for the cold winter season, the Roja Warmer, a mixture of Roja Raspberry Tequila, black raspberry liqueur, and hot apple cider. The finishing touch is a skewer of apple slices and fresh raspberries.  

Q: What makes you, or your establishment stand apart from the rest?

FC: Our location is what makes us unique, being 8,516 feet above the Coachella Valley. Also, we use local ingredients for our restaurant and bar.  

Q: Where do you draw inspiration from? How do you exhibit it at work?

FC: I draw inspiration from my guests, as they take in the majestic surroundings of Mt. San Jacinto with their family and friends. I create memories with my guests, I make sure they have a good experience, and it never feels like work.

The Lookout Lounge in Peaks Restaurant
1 Tram Way
Palm Springs, CA 92262
760.325.4537

 

John Lotz, Co-Founder, Desert Distilling

 

Q: If you could drink one thing in Greater Palm Springs for the rest of your life (not from your establishment) what would it be?

John Lotz: Armando’s Palm Desert—the house margarita is fantastic and there is a limit of two per person.

Q: What are your three can’t-live-without spirits to mix with?

JL: Vodka, rum and gin. We make them all and are really proud of them.

Q: What is your favorite spirit made at your distillery?

JL: I would have to say our vodka made from Red Winter Wheat. It’s a long process from grain to bottle, we do it all. First we mash the grain which is in the form of flour all the time adding enzymes to break down the starches to sugars. Then on to the fermenter tanks for a couple days. After that we do a striping run in-still which makes the whole distillery smell like baking bread. Then we re-run our spirit two more times through the still to get the desired alcohol proof.  After that our vodka gets a cold filter and carbon filter to bring out the ultra smooth taste.

Q: What makes you, or your establishment stand apart from the rest?

JL: We for one are a distillery and the only one in the valley.

Q: Where do you draw inspiration from? How do you exhibit it at work?

JL: Other distillers, bartenders pushing the limits on new drinks and liquors. We have a tasting room to display our spirits also we go out to local festivals and events.

Desert Distilling
34300 Gateway Dr Ste 100
Palm Desert, CA 92211
760.770.3135

 

Greg Wilson, Assistant General Manager, Pacifica Seafood Restaurant

 

Q: If you could drink one thing in Greater Palm Springs for the rest of your life (not from your restaurant) what would it be?

Greg Wilson: Of course wine is fine and liquor is quicker, but here in the desert, a well-crafted cold chevela is the drink I find myself seeking the most.

Q: What are your three can’t-live-without spirits to mix with?

GW: My fondness for the Hemingway and Aviation cocktails make Luxardo maraschino liqueur and creme de violette must have spirits. The third would have to be sweet vermouth because it’s a timeless classic and there are so many variations; much like red wine, but it represents almost everything prohibition.

Q: What is your favorite drink to make at your restaurant?

GW: My favorite drink to make is something we’ve recently created named “Ginger’s Island,” where ginger is the star of the show. This vodka drink features our housemade ginger-cayenne simple syrup which adds punch, spice and sizzle to the drink—and our cocktail list!

Q: What makes you, or your establishment stand apart from the rest?

GW: Two things that set Pacifica Seafood Restaurant apart from the others are our spectacular rooftop dining terrace and our impressive international vodka bar. The rooftop terrace boasts magnificent views of the Coachella Valley, which is the perfect back drop while indulging in our international vodka bar featuring over 140 vodkas from 19 different countries!

Q: Where do you draw inspiration from? How do you exhibit it at work?

GW: Inspiration for me comes from many different inlets such as industry magazines, the food networks, local restaurants and bars, hometown San Diego’s Gaslamp District, beach cities and north county, and of course, my family. All of these sources keep me and the restaurant current with trends (although my four boys would argue that I’m anything but current!).

Pacifica Seafood Restaurant
73505 El Paseo
Palm Desert, CA 92260
760.674.8666

 

Scott Winant, Director of Food and Beverage, Indian Wells Golf Resort

 

Q: If you could drink one thing in Greater Palm Springs for the rest of your life (not from your restaurant) what would it be?

Scott Winant: Water.

Q: What are your three can’t-live-without spirits to mix with?

SW: Any brown spirit, they are just so versatile and the possibilities are limitless, with taste profiles that are unique, unlike vodkas. Mandarin Napoleon, a blend of cognac and mandarin oranges. It has a bold distinct flavor and really enhances every cocktail used in. Chambord, I don’t know why, but I like so many, never get tired of raspberries and it can be mixed with any type of spirit to make a delicious cocktail.

Q: What is your favorite drink made at Vue Grill & Bar?

SW: Our Denny Booths Berry Bramble: Wild Turkey 101, simple syrup, fresh blackberries, Chambord and lemon juice. This cocktail is named after one of our regular guests who passed away last year and Wild Turkey was his favorite spirit.

Q: What makes you, or your establishment stand apart from the rest?

SW: Our amazing selection of whiskeys. Over 250 now with 180 bourbons and 70 whiskeys from around the world (French, Irish, Scotch, Canadian and Japanese).

Q: Where do you draw inspiration from? How do you exhibit it at work?  

SW: In life, I draw inspiration from my kids, they are my reason for going to work each day. At work, I draw inspiration from my staff, both front of house and back of house, who show up every day to work with a genuine passion to see this restaurant succeed. In 15 years and at several different properties, this staff from top to bottom exhibits more passion and professionalism than any I have been around.

Vue Grille & Bar at Indian Wells Golf Resort
44500 Indian Wells Ln
Indian Wells, CA 92210
760.834.3800

 

Victor Heinz, Manager and Director of Mixology, Fox and Fiddle

 

Q: If you could drink one thing in Greater Palm Springs for the rest of your life (not from your restaurant) what would it be?

Victor Heinz: I would have to say the date shake from the Date Shed. I can’t get enough of those!

Q: What are your three can’t-live-without spirits to mix with? Why?

VH: My main go-tos in the bar and can’t live without are my bitters, bourbon and citrus. With just those three, a true cocktail—to the definition—can be made.

Q: What is your favorite drink to make at your restaurant?

VH: Honestly, I do not have a favorite drink to make. My favorite drink to make is the one that the guest and I create together and have a story built around the experience in making it.

Q: What makes you, or your establishment stand apart from the rest?

VH: The fact that you have never seen a pub as unique as Fox and Fiddle in our valley. The menu can speak for itself; It’s our family-style of running an establishment that will set us apart from the rest.

Q: Where do you draw inspiration from? How do you exhibit it at work?

VH: I draw my inspiration for the people in the valley in the layout of the valley. If you have a better insight of the valley, you can actually make any drink for anybody that comes to your bar. New to the valley old to the valley, the valley makes the people and I make the cocktails for the people.

Fox and Fiddle
71800 Hwy 111
Rancho Mirage, CA 92270
These Nine Drink Experts Tell Us Their Fave Drinks to Make, Drink and Clink