Featured Bartender: Rhys Alvarado

October 17 , 2016 by: The House of Angostura Featured Bartender

image1Where do you currently tend bar?
I’m behind the stick at the Burritt Room+Tavern, one of San Francisco’s quintessential cocktail joints.

Where is that again?
Second floor of the Mystic Hotel. Union Square’s best kept secret.

How many years have you been bartending, and how did you get into it?
I’ve been bartending for three years. I’m a journalism major, and for three years I wrote a cocktail column for The San Francisco Examiner dubbed “Behind The Stick.” My job (if you want to call it a job) was to go around and drink cocktails and feature bars new and old, from the grit to the gold. The Burritt Room became my regular hangout and I wanted to be a part of it myself. I eventually nagged the Bar Manager for a bar backing gig. He was resilient at first, but eventually gave in to having me work behind him one day a week. One day a week turned into five. And here I am. Living the dream.

Define the perfect cocktail:
For my guests, the perfect cocktail is whatever makes them happy. When it comes to conceiving drinks for our menu, the best drinks tend to be the ones that are collaborated on among the team. The more palettes that have input on the drink, the closer we get to refining that drink.

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-2-13-46-pmDo you have an original cocktail recipe featuring Angostura Bitters, Angostura Rum or Amaro di Angostura that you’d care to share?
The Rumble in the Jungle is on our current “Ode to the Greats” cocktail menu.
Mohammed Ali 1974- KOs George Foreman to reclaim Heavyweight title.

2 oz. Angostura White Oak
0.5 oz Lillet
0.5 oz agave nectar (1:1)
0.5 oz mango puree
0.5 oz lemon
1.5 oz tonic

Build all ingredients in tin except tonic. Shake and double strain into ice filled collins glass. Top with tonic. Garnish with sliced mango, mint sprig and a pinch of esplette pepper.

With so many new bitters flooding the market, where do you see Angostura Bitters in the mix?
There’s no two ways around it—Angostura is King. Not to say that other bitters don’t taste great, it’s just that no bitter offers the same depth, complexity and rich spice that Angostura does.

What drinks have you added Angostura Bitters to that normally don’t call for it?
I’ll throw a dash of Angostura in my daiquiris, daiquiri variations and whiskey sours. Sometimes during a bartender whimsy, I’ll be stirring something up and tasting along the way. And when something’s missing, Angostura is usually the answer.

What is your, personal go-to drink?
I really do enjoy a negroni. It’s great anytime of day. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner.

What is the most unusual drink request you have gotten?
I once had a guy who was insistent on me using indian curry spices in his drink, which I have no problem doing if I had them on hand or in the kitchen. But we’re a cocktail bar with American tavern fare.

At the end of your shift you: Take a shot. Crack a beer. Put on A Tribe Called Quest.

What is the most memorable story you have during your bartending career?
One night Miss Universe and Miss USA came into our bar for dinner. All the ladies she was with were enjoying cocktails throughout the night, but I wanted to do something special because you don’t get to serve people like that all the time. She’s Filipino and so am I. I’d been working on this tropical drink with Filipino flavors. Angostura Rum, coconut cream orgeat, calamansi and Angostura Bitters. I shook up cheeky shots of the drink for her and her party for dessert. She loved them.

What, in your mind, is the one skill any bartender needs to be successful?
This job, first and foremost is about hospitality and service. Learning how to make drinks is secondary. Do everything with a smile. Ask them how their day’s been. Be able to read your guests and their needs. Be attentive but not overbearing. Make your guests happy and they’ll eventually become your regulars. Build enough regulars and you’ll always have someone at your bar.

What is one think you wish more people understood about bartending?
It’s not an easy job. I think there’s a lot of people who want to do this job because they want to be the person shaking the tins and stirring the cocktails. Some people don’t fully understand the complexities of the drinks and how long it’s taken to arrive at certain flavor combinations. Others don’t understand the long hard hours this job can require, sometimes getting out at 4 a.m.

Did your bartending style influence where you work, or did the bar influence your style?
The Burritt Room is a really sexy bar. In my biased opinion, I truly believe that it is the most beautiful bar in San Francisco. It’s a dim candlelit space with red velvet couches, live jazz, and a roaring bar top of regulars. The bar screams sophistication. The space definitely influences my style of bartending. We remain as professional as possible, but don’t mind a little tipple with our guests.

If you could serve anyone in the world, dead or alive, who would it be? 
I’d love to sling some drinks for Elvis. He was my grandfather’s idol. I’d have him come sit at the corner. See him start breaking out in song. Pumping up the rest of the bar top. Watch the fellas admire. Watch the ladies swoon over him. Watch his hairdo go messy as he hit his sixth or seventh drink.

What do you like most about bartending?
Coming from a culinary family who’ve all worked in kitchens, I’m glad I found my place behind the bar.  The most gratifying part of my job is being able to create something that people are going to enjoy. I love going  to the market or coming across an obscure item and coming up with a way to put it in a drink. Sometimes I go out and have a drink elsewhere and see how I can put my own twist on the drink. That’s what’s so wonderful about this industry and what makes San Francisco one of the great drinking cities.

Make sure to follow Rhys on all his social channels!
Facebook: Rhys Alvarado
Twitter: @rhyseespieces
Instagram: @rhyseespieces