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 that they order at the bar. Each week we will feature one of the nation’s top bartenders and their drink of choice.
This week’s Sav’s Fave is Dan Long, Bar Manager of Big Bar at The Alcove (this writer’s current favorite cocktail bar in LA).
Born and raised in Las Vegas, Dan learned the ins and outs of the restaurant industry. Like a lot of bartenders, Long worked his way up from the bottom: first as a busser and then a server. He eventually realized that not only were the bartenders making all the money, but they were the ones having all the fun. So he learned the ropes and ultimately made his way behind the bar.
His first foray into cocktail creation came when Dan, under the tutelage of featured "What Does Your Bartender Drink" bar genius, Aidan Demarest, began at Downtown Los Angeles craft cocktail bar, First and Hope. As Dan puts it, he was “lucky enough to work with some of the future stars of LA bartending.” Long loves the fact that unlike the competitive nature of the New York and San Francisco bar scene, Los Angeles embraces a family environment. “Building a bar is like building a home. Bartenders in LA love to go from place to place and help each other out.” He goes on, “A lot of those bartenders from First and Hope have gone on to build their own bar programs." This includes Long, whose ever-evolving cocktail list at Big Bar in the Los Feliz part of Los Angeles is among the best in the city.
When we asked Dan about his mantra behind the bar, he had two great answers. First, his goal is to make his bar “inclusive not exclusive.” For Dan, it’s not about having a line out the door or being on a list. “We’re lucky enough to be located in a great neighborhood,” says Long. “Now we have customers come in and say “What’s new on the menu?”. We have gained people’s trust.” Dan’s second mantra when behind the stick? Keep it simple. (Check out this article we just wrote. Kismet? We think so.) Long says, “Each ingredient should be tasted and heard.” His wife, a chef in Los Angeles, often tells him that men tend to have a heavy hand in the kitchen. Dan likes to make sure that he doesn’t make the same mistake behind the bar.
Where does Dan Long see the cocktail movement heading? He says, “Each bar adapts new techniques which, in turn, make the scene as a whole a lot better. For the customer, you increase their knowledge and appreciation for cocktails.” Dan says it’s all about fine tuning. Right now he feels that the movement is about simplifying. “Drinking should be a pleasure you don’t have to think too much about,” says Long. This is the thought process behind his newest venture, which is still under wraps. But he did tell us that is was essentially taking nights that were generally known as “club nights” and subtly turning them into proper cocktail nights, without the customers having to think too much about the actual cocktails.
What Does Your Bartender Drink?:
When not mixing himself, Dan likes to take his “simplify” motto to heart - he is a beer and single spirit type of guy. With the fall coming, Dan likes to sip on a nice aged rum.
Try 2 oz of Plantation Grande Réserve 5 years, neat in a snifter glass.