Liquid Legends

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Best Bartenders

Not only do they know your name, but they  say it with a smile, know if you take it shaken or stirred, and always make you feel like one of the gang.- By Bruce Porter | Photos by Jody Tiongco

Ask any bartender worth the salt around the rim of a margarita glass, and he’ll tell you he does it because of the people. Career bartenders don’t stay in the business because their college plans went awry or for the free drinks or for the money. (Though, it must be said, the money ain’t half bad.) No, the men and women who pour the latest fashionable concoctions—who never scoop ice with their hands, avoid foul language like the plague and know that being a friend means taking away the car keys if necessary—do it because they enjoy the company of whoever happens to be on the other side of the mahogany countertop.

With Newport’s popularity as a great destination for food and fun, the competition for jobs in the restaurant industry here is fierce. Many gladly accept long commutes for the opportunity. It’s not surprising, then, that the quality of local restaurants’ staff, from chef to busboy, is high. The bartenders in town are uniformly excellent. They understand that being good at their job is about cheering up their customers, not getting them intoxicated.

Career bartenders are equal parts inventor, showman and raconteur. They’re more social directors than mixologists. They wax sentimental over bloody marys at quiet Sunday brunches, pour 450 beers during the Super Bowl, and pass around kooky Jell-O shots at wild New Year’s celebrations. There’s no crawling into the office late and hanging out in the break room. It’s not an easy job.

Fortunately, for those who occasionally like to unwind after work at their favorite watering hole, Newport is home to some of the best.

Rob Fino: 3-Thirty-3 Waterfront

You wouldn’t guess by looking at him, but Rob has almost 25 years of experience behind the bar, including stints at the likes of 21 Oceanfront and the Newport Harbor Yacht Club. “I never thought people would spend $25 on a glass of wine,” he jokes. “But the people around here don’t even blink. Regardless of the economy, they still like to drink. It’s recession proof!”

He credits good old-fashioned hard work and customer service for his success. “Give everybody what they want. There’s no ‘we can’t do it.’ If they ask for something, give it to them; if they ask for something special, make it. And if you’re that guy, you’ll do alright.”

Rob started working at 3-Thirty-3 eight years ago when the restaurant opened. The same families he knew from working at the yacht club have become customers here. “The kids who were 5 or 6 years old have grown up, and now I’m taking care of them. So that’s pretty cool.”

 

Fresh Muddled Raspberry Mojito
2 ounces Bacardi Limón rum
6 mint leaves
4 quartered lime slices
4 raspberries
Muddle, shake over ice, and add a splash of soda.

Mike Dewitt: balboa bay club & resort

Since opening in 1948, the Balboa Bay Club has arguably been the single most important factor behind Newport’s reputation as the getaway spot for the rich and famous. From Barry Goldwater in 1954 to President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney more recently, politicians have held major events here. It’s a resort steeped in tradition and proud to cultivate from within its own ranks.

“My grandfather started here when the club opened, working as a dishwasher,” Mike says. His uncle was a bartender here for 41 years; two of his cousins also tended bar. Over the last 64 years, only two years didn’t see one of Mike’s family members behind the bar at the landmark club.

A third-generation employee, Mike started at the Balboa Bay Club around the same time the once-private resort first opened a good portion of its amenities to the public. For nine years, he’s been serving mouth-watering daiquiris and mai tais poolside. “This place has basically provided my family with a living,” he says appreciatively.

Mike enjoys improvising when the situation calls for it. “I create drinks on a whim,” he explains. “I ask if they like it sweet, sour or spicy.” One of those drinks, the Zorro, is made from Blavod black vodka, Kraken spiced rum, amaretto liqueur, and pomegranate and pineapple juice. For Zorro’s obligatory white sword, he fills a straw with Bacardi 151. But he’s quick to add, “I gotta warn them about that!”

Jamaican Beaver
¾ ounces Captain Morgan rum
¾ ounces Malibu rum
3 ounces pineapple juice
3 ounces orange juice
Splash of grenadine
Shake and serve with a pineapple garnish.

lisa teixeira: muldoon’s irish pub

More than anyone else in town, Lisa fits the part. Her surname may be Portuguese, but her classic Irish features alone nearly warrant an exalted status. Strangers and regulars alike are greeted with bright blue eyes, striking red hair and quick-fire banter, the type that makes Irish pubs so popular on this side of the Atlantic. “I think that’s what I love about this job,” Lisa says. “I’m a talker, and here I get to talk and socialize all day long.”

“Muldoon’s may be an institution in Newport Beach, but Lisa is the star,” says Valerie, a regular patron. “She’s one of the first people I go to during a breakup, before and after a new haircut, and when I have something to celebrate. Her smiling face and genuine personality always makes me, along with many others, feel special and at home. Lisa’s not my bartender, she’s family.”

Even if you have it good with the bartender, there are still limitations come St. Paddy’s Day at Muldoon’s. “Some friends will ask if I can save them seat,” Lisa says incredulously, as if this was in the realm of possibility, on a day when people are spilling over into the parking lot. “I tell them, sure, no problem,” she quips, and a chorus of laughter erupts from around the bar.

Over The Stix
(Muldoon’s take on a mint julep)
6 mint leaves
1½ ounces Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey
½ ounces St-Germain elderflower liqueur
Muddle, top with ginger ale and garnish with a large sprig of mint.

mike stomp : the alley restaurant

“I used to be the youngest bartender in Newport Beach, and now I’m working my way to being the oldest,” Mike says with a chuckle. He started busing tables at 14 and moved behind the bar when he turned 21. For most of his 49 years in the business, he’s been at The Alley and seen a lot of interesting faces along the way. “I’ve had tequila with John Wayne, served Mickey Mantle … even Carmen Electra has come in.”

The food here is pretty tasty, especially the anti-happy hour appetizers, but that’s not why The Alley is so popular. The cozy pub, which can get a little loud as the sun nears the horizon, is a favored hot spot for locals to let loose and have a few. Mike’s low-key approach is the perfect counterweight.

“We have a sophisticated clientele, and they pretty much stick with the old standbys—dry Manhattans, Old-Fashioneds, that kind of thing,” Mike says of his regulars. “We basically don’t even have a blender at the bar.”

 

Manhattan
1 ounce Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth
2 ounces Seagram’s V.O. blended Canadian whiskey
Stirred, not shaken.

cash wilson : billy’s at the beach

From the waitresses at Mutt Lynch’s to the maitre d’ at The Ritz Restaurant, everyone has something nice to say about Cash. “He treats everybody like a VIP,” one customer says, and his friends nod in agreement.

“All the people who work here and who come in here are amazing. They’re like family,” Cash says jovially. He looks each customer straight in the eye, as if this is the most important conversation of his day.

“When I first came here it was a little overwhelming,” confides Cash, who’s now been with Billy’s for 11 years. “Two people quit, one was fired, and I was thrust into the position. I didn’t know how to make any drinks. But learning that was the easy part—there’s so much more to it. Now I know everybody’s name, what they want, how they want it, and when they want it.”

Billy’s dazzling mai tais are by far its most celebrated drink, but no amount of prodding will get Cash to divulge its secret recipe.

Navy Grog
1 ounce light rum
1 ounce dark rum
½ lime
Dash of almond syrup
Dash of simple syrup
Shake, top with a float of Bacardi 151, and garnish with mint leaf and sugar stick.

thomas peroutka: quiet woman

“The places I’ve worked have always been so fast-paced, geared toward young people meeting and mating, that we rarely got the time to create a lot of cocktails,” Tom recalls. He made his bones working at places like John Wayne Airport’s El Torito, back in the go-go days of the ’80s. “Restaurants and bars were so crowded that the masters—the guys we called mechanics—could put out four, five, six, up to 10 thousand dollars a night worth of drinks.”

While Quiet Woman appears geared for the well-to-do 30-something crowd, it’s still too busy for Tom to spend a lot of time mixing fancy muddled-fruit cocktails, even if they are the summer’s big trend. “There are cycles,” he explains, “and around here it’s the old cocktails I learned how to make many, many years ago that are coming back. Young people—you’d never think—are asking for Manhattans and Sazeracs—these ‘Mad Men’ cocktails our parents used to drink.”

Tom put himself through college by bartending. He received a MFA from UCLA and went on to have “moderate success” as a script writer for a number of children’s television shows before returning to bartending. “I wouldn’t be a bartender if it weren’t for the Quiet Woman,” he says. “I fell in love with the ‘Cheers’-like atmosphere and its unique relationship with the community. It truly is what you would consider an old-fashioned establishment, in the most genuine way.” NBM

The Sazerac1 teaspoon Pernod absinthe
1 teaspoon agave nectar
3 dashes Angostura bitters
2 ½ ounces Bulleit Rye whiskey
Twist of lemon peel
Swirl Pernod inside a chilled glass to coat, then discard. In an ice-filled shaker, stir (do not shake) agave, bitters and rye. Strain into glass, twist lemon peel skin-side down and rub peel on rim.

 

 

 

 

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