These Mixologists Really Know how to Mix Things Up
Written By: Omar Velasquez Gaslamp District Mixologists
San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, better known as the Gaslamp District, has some of the best dining, shops, hotels and restaurants/pubs. With a radius of about 16 blocks, this historical downtown neighborhood also offers one amazing night life experience. Gaslamp is topped with some of the best nightclubs and bars that bring creativity to the table. In the midst of it all, there are mixologists waiting to serve you up a cocktail or two. In our recently released poll, readers voted for their favorite mixologists. Here are the top winners that will make San Diego’s Gaslamp District experience that much better. Cheers!
Matt Hunter, Bartender at Rustic Root
Q: Matt Hunter the “Booze Enchanter.” How did that name come about?
Matt Hunter: I was bartending a few years back when a regular of mine would call me a magician or wizard all the time when I’d create a new drink for him. I thought about a title and cocktail magician or libation wizard just didn’t sound all that appealing. While putting a few back at a Las Vegas bar I finally settled on Booze Enchanter. It still encompassed the idea of a wizard and magician but had a better ring to it.
Q: How does it feel to be voted as Gaslamp’s Top Mixologist?
MH: Being chosen as one of the Gaslamp top mixologists is an absolute honor. There are so many amazingly talented bartenders/mixologists in the Gaslamp and to be considered amongst them really makes all the hard work and late nights worth it.
Q: When did you begin your journey in serving up drinks?
MH: I started serving drinks when I was 18 years old in Los Angeles for a private high-end catering company. I had no idea what I was doing but it was a ton of fun and helped pave the way for my future career.
Q: What is your favorite whiskey to drink and serve?
MH: My favorite whiskey to drink has to be Lagavulin 16 although I don’t discriminate very often. I’m part Scottish and scotch tends to be the spirit that agrees with me the most. My favorite whiskey to serve, at least at the moment, is Henebery. It has spices added to it and has a very nuanced taste in a whiskey cocktail like an Old Fashioned or Boulevardier.
Chris Cheng, Lead Bartender at barleymash
Q: How does it feel to picked as one of Gaslamp’s top mixologists?
Chris Cheng: It’s cool, our staff does a great job of making and serving the cocktails; so it’s more a testament to their hard work!
Q: Your favorite drink is the “Gold Rush,” what is your secondary choice?
CC: Old Fashioned is always good, everyone knows how to make them and they are easy.
Q: What do you recommend for a first timer at barleymash?
CC: Our Doctor’s Order (cucumber infused pear, Absolut Vodka, lime, orgeat, cinnamon).
Q: What drink would you pour yourself after a long shift?
CC: Either some Mezcal El Silencio or Four Roses Single Barrel.
Q: What is one fun fact about you?
CC: I used to be a music major and played saxophone in college.
Jesse Juarez, Bartender at Brian’s 24
Q: What steps did you take in becoming Brian’s 24 top mixologist?
Jesse Juarez: Reading. I read all I could about drinks, different spirits and beers as well as knowing what to expect from the aroma, to the taste, to the after taste.
Q: How does it feel to be picked as one of Gaslamp’s top mixologist?
JJ: Exciting! To have so many friends and past customers who remember me, all voting, really felt special. Even new customers I met that week! Thank you all so much!
Q: How did you adapt to the fast paced environment of bartending?
JJ: Experience, years of experience it just takes time to get yourself in a routine, learning your wells and memorizing cocktails. I don’t think I am the fastest. I just make sure my drinks get out quickly and correct.
Q: What is one of your favorite drinks to make?
JJ: A Whisky Rickey, it’s a forgotten cocktail that is simple to make and easy to experiment with. I like to add a couple of mint leaves for more refreshment.
Q: Quick fun fact about yourself?
JJ: Me being from Texas, I actually got in the industry to be a bouncer. I was asked to help behind the bar once and enjoyed the experience. The rest is history.
Antonio Orozco, Lead Bartender at Florent Restaurant & Lounge
Q: Your explanation of your signature drink “Tequila Old Fashioned” sounds amazing; do you still pour/recommend that drink?
Antonio Orozco: I love my Tequila Old Fashioned. This beauty is on our current cocktail menu and a great example of swapping out traditional ingredients but maintaining a balanced cocktail by following the traditional recipe. Agave nectar is a sweetener used in the drink that complements the reposado tequila. Orange and cherry bitters to bring out a little citrus and refreshing elements to the cocktail and an orange zest to top it all off! I love watching people taste this cocktail because they usually take a sip then look at the drink and smile.
Q: How do you go about creating drinks? Does it depend on mood, day or person?
AO: It all depends on what or who I am making the drinks for. If I have a guest sit at my bar interested in something new, I usually ask them for a spirit and if they want it more direct or light. Depending on the answers, I can usually go from there. For contest and competitions, I try to go for approachability with a slight twist to make it an original. Creating cocktails to me is very similar to the way I go about taking photographs. I usually see the cocktail in my head and then figure out how to execute the flavors. Some days it flows out and others it is a little more difficult but at the end of the day I always say, ‘If you do not quit, you can never fail.’
Q: Would you say fruit is a key element for a drink to have?
AO: I believe quality ingredients are key for any cocktail. Every ingredient is key in a cocktail to execute the drink properly. Fruit is tricky because of its shelf life. It is important to taste your ingredients before using them so you understand the flavors that are being presented.
Q: What is your favorite cocktail to serve? To drink?
AO: My favorite cocktail to serve is the one that puts a smile on my guests face! The feeling of making someone smile through the craft that I know and love is something very special to me. Right now I [enjoy drinking] my espresso-infused Tequila Old Fashioned. We are the works of remaking our cocktail menu and this little gem will be featured on it. Beautiful espresso flavors with hints of chocolate are expressed without overpowering the delicious flavors of the tequila. Something everyone should be excited for!
Q: What advice would you give to someone that wants to be a bartender?
AO: Learn, read, Google, YouTube and watch other bartenders. The more you know, the more successful you will be. I started as a busser, but everyday I came into work I made sure I was on my ‘A game.’ I moved up to bar-back and made sure that every chance I got to learn something new from the bartenders, I did! You have to understand that as a bartender you are at the main point of sales for the business you work for. You are responsible for the money, the safety of your guests and also providing excellent customer service just to name a few things. Never feel entitled; you show what you are made of every time you clock in.
I would like to say thank you to all my co-workers for their hard work and effort they put into making Florent so great. Special thanks to my managers for helping me grow in my career and of course special shout out to my paisan, Johnnie Fanchimone! Cheers.
You Voted! Here Are Your Top 5 Mixologists in Gaslamp