Celebrity Mixologist Russell Davis Proves There’s More to Making Cocktails Than Meets the Eye
Written By: Taylor Simmons Drinking With Russell Davis from Bar Rescue
Photographed By: Stephen Panosian
The Expert: Russell Davis
Favorite Drinks: Petchuga Mezcal Old Fashioned and Tecate dipped in salt, tomatillo and lime.
“Can I make you a drink?” These were some of the first words to come from Celebrity Mixologist Russell Davis’ mouth. The bar industry deep rooted in his core, he can’t help but offer a drink to those he interacts with. And so the experience began, as he handed me iced water in a mason jar and candy from across the globe. The sliding glass door was open to the beach air, and the music was switched on as I became his audience rather than his interviewer.
From mixologist to producer, he likes to describe himself as a wild card. While talking to this open and thoughtful man, the passion he has for the industry oozes from his pores. He describes his ride of a life, from being a theater and dance major, to becoming a bartender, to moving up to bar manager, to becoming the acclaimed celebrity bar industry entrepreneur. His excitement and openness is rare to find. He talks about the need to remain grounded as fame creeps into his life. Practicing what he preaches, he talks about his role in the industry as though he is doing it for the talent behind him. Being humble and selfless, his goals are geared more towards an industry he wants to see excel. We talk personal and professional and fill the spaces in between as Davis answers questions without hesitation and with a sense of pride and purpose.
Q: Could you explain how you came to be in the bar industry?
Russell Davis: I was going to college at the University of Texas. I had always had this fascination with cocktails. My first girlfriend showed me this movie at 16-years-old, and I just loved it. I was going to college to be a theater and dance major. I told myself I would be a bartender throughout college — that would be how I made my money. My freshman year, I would sit in my dorm room and throw all these taped bottles around while watching the slow motion scenes in “Cocktail” on my VHS. That’s how I learned all the tricks. The RA would come to my room and tell me that the neighbors downstairs are complaining because I was dropping so many bottles. But then I got this job at a bar out there. It was on West Campus. I had worked my way up to bar manager before I was 19-years-old. Slowly, I was moving up. At 21, I got this opportunity to move from that bar to one of the hottest bars around, called Speakeasy. It was such a cool lifestyle. I remember talking to my buddies who were graduating with their degrees. They would graduate and then go work at convenience stores. I ended up staying in this bar industry and loved every minute. It is my passion. I just loved entertaining the crowds. Growing up I was a huge nerd. I kissed my first girl at 17-years-old. I used to go to comic book conventions. The bar industry was what forced me to open up.
Q: What do you think are attributes that make a great bartender?
RD: I think being able to give somebody an experience makes for a great bartender. You’re never selling a cocktail. You’re selling an experience. There was a bar up in San Francisco. It was a really dumpy dive bar, but for $5 you could get a shot, a can of beer and a lottery ticket. It created an experience for the people who decided to go in.
Q: What is your favorite part of creating drinks?
RD: Getting something out. Creatively, you just need to get something out of there. A lot of the drinks I make have a lot of heart behind them. Whenever I create a drink, I want it always to have a deeper meaning. I have always tried to express myself through it.
Q: What is your favorite drink?
RD: I love a shot of Green Chartreuse and root beer chaser. A lot of people used to give me crap about that, but they don’t understand how historical root beer truly is. I try not to drink that anymore though. I end up doing stupid things. I love a Petchuga Mezcal Old Fashioned and a Tecate dipped in salt, tomatillo and lime. Nothing can beat that. I try not to be too crazy. I am creating the first drink for Zero Gravity. I started a company that would launch products for the space tourism industry. We have a cup that has these grooves in it so that you can drink it without a lid. We’ve proved that the cup works with water, and now I will be going up and creating the first cocktail.
Q: What is the one ingredient that will always make a drink better?
RD: Love. It’s true.
Q: What has been your response to your success?
RD: Don’t drop the ball. This moment is fleeting. You need to get to the next one. Know your own velocity. Keep the momentum.
Q: What is the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
RD: Myself on many different levels. When I get focused, I get too focused. When I am intense, I am too intense. I can beat myself up sometimes. I can be my worst enemy, but then I can be my biggest hero if I learn how to rein myself in. There are those times I thought I couldn’t do this. Then there are those times where I think I can break the glass ceiling. Yeah, I can get in my own way professionally and personally.
Q: Who as inspired you?
RD: Hemingway and Picasso. I think Picasso and I would have gotten along really well. He always expressed the way he was feeling through his art, which I thought was very cool. I hope that when I am gone, people will be able to look at my cocktails from time frame they were created in my life, and say, “Oh, he was sad during this time.” I hope they can read that the same way they can with Picasso. Hemingway is an idol, but I don’t think we would have gotten along as well. I think we are too similar to be good friends. I think we would clash. His passion is something that I can relate to.
Q: What is your favorite place that you have been able to travel to?
RD: Prague. Prague is cool. Prague was one of the only cities that was saved by Hitler in WWII. He wanted to make the head of the Nazi empire in Prague. And so he didn’t bomb it or anything. It was never destroyed, so you have this city that has never had to rebuild itself. Even the city underneath it. You would be in this really nice hotel, and you may not realize there is a basement to it. But then at night the basement opens up, and you have these secret strip clubs. It’s a crazy town. They have some really cool liquors that come out of there. It’s dangerous, it’s old and it’s fun. It’s perfect. Ernest Hemingway said, “If you want to judge a culture, then look at their bars.”
Q: Do you give back to the community in any way?
RD: I do a lot of the stuff I do without telling people. I have gotten in trouble with my accountant for giving too much. I don’t like to talk about it, but I think that’s a huge part of everything. Making the world a better place. I want to be a pillar that helps hold up the local community.
Living Like a Local: Russell’s local go-to favorites include Mo’s Place, a nice little dive bar owned by Mo, who actually takes care of his dog Daphne. He loves having a sour ale over at The Tripel. And then there’s Prince O’ Whales. Each has a distinct atmosphere.
Native Knowledge: Russell lives in Playa Del Ray, which he says is, “one of the coolest towns in the U.S.” It doesn’t feel like LA, and no franchises are allowed. His neighborhood is known as “The Jungle, ” an area where many producers live.