You watch in awe as they carefully craft your cocktail with the precision and speed of a fighter pilot. Dressed to the nines, they barely break a sweat as they muddle, shake and strain to perfection. They are encyclopedias of cocktailia, as they can name every drink from an Aviation to a Zombie Punch. They are bartenders and they are the blood, sweat and tears of the cocktail revolution. So the question we all have is, when they put down the shaker and unstrap the suspenders, what do these superheroes behind the stick actually drink?
The Savory took to the best craft cocktail bars in Los Angeles to talk to some of our favorite, most talented bar chefs to find out just what it is they order at the bar. Each week we will feature one of the nation’s top bartenders along with their drink of choice.
This week’s Savory Fave is Cari Hah. Cari has been involved in the opening of multiple bars and cocktail programs throughout Los Angeles. You can currently find her slinging top-notch craft cocktails behind the bar at Cole’s in downtown LA.
Cari’s journey into the world of craft cocktails is an interesting one. Cari grew up in a very strict and traditional Korean family that is still in complete denial that she has chosen the bar as her office. After a very short stint bartending at a club while attending college at the University of Chicago, Cari decided to pursue more professional goals. Her original career path led her into the world of finance. But while working in Chicago she wandered into The Violet Hour, the city’s prominent cocktail bar. Hah says “it opened my eyes to a new way of drinking. I fell in love.” But that love took a while to bloom. By 2004, Cari found herself working as a buyer in the fashion industry in Los Angeles. She hated the industry and was looking for a way out. That just happened to be the right decision as the Cocktail Renaissance was beginning in Los Angeles. Living downtown, Cari sites bars such as The Varnish and The Association as inspirations for her foray in the world of cocktailia.
She took a job at The Varnish where she studied and focused on learning technique and drink recipes. She began to hone her craft and find her niche in a mostly male-dominated industry. She was soon asked to help open other bars throughout the city. She also began headlining a sangrita guest-bartender tour, where herself and another female mixologist toured bars and poured their custom-made sangrita recipes. This brought Cari to the forefront of the cocktail movement on the west coast.
When we asked Cari about being a respected female mixologist, she talked about Los Angeles specifically. “There is a movement of women in the industry that is leaving behind the cattiness and competitiveness, and instead embracing togetherness. We love that we have the support of the city. We hold events and we all show up for each other. I’m proud of LA. LA is a family.”
Where does Hah see the cocktail movement heading? “Honestly, I foresee a draw backward. The movement got a little too pretentious. Stop carving that ice and give me my damn drink,” says Cari. “A cocktail should not take 20 minutes and a crowd should not be intimidated by their bartender. A bar is a place where people come to have a good time. I think the movement will lead toward an effort to just be fun. The guest is the star.” We here at The Savory love that outlook and hope Cari will serve us up fun drinks for a long time.
What Does Your Bartender Drink?:
Cari’s drink of choice, when she’s on a bar stool as opposed to behind the stick, is a Siembra Azul Tequila neat with a fresh sangrita to accompany it. Cari loves the care and personalization that goes into the Siembra Azul brand, whose founder, David Suro Piñera, is the President of the Tequila Interchange Project–a non-profit organization that believes in preserving and promoting sustainable, traditional and quality practices in the tequila and agave-distilled spirits industry.
Cari’s Sangrita Recipe
Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice
Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice
Fresh Squeezed Grapefruit Juice
Homemade Pomegranate Syrup