Welcome to Lifers, a feature in which Eater interviews the men and women who have worked in the restaurant and bar industry for the better part of their lives, sharing their stories and more.
Elizabeth Daniels 11/12
The martini was made for a bar like Musso & Frank Grill, where red-jacketed bartenders stir up clear glasses of liquid courage. Manny Aguirre has been behind the bar at Musso & Frank Grill for decades, his career spanning more than fifty years at bars in Los Angeles. Aguirre has served dignitaries, celebrities, stars, tourists, and locals, all of them finding something magical in a blend of ice, gin (or vodka), and dry vermouth, garnished with olive, cocktail onion, or lemon twist. The variations are endless, but the results are the same — Aguirre has mastered the art of making the perfect martini. Eater sits down with Aguirre to talk about making martinis and his years at Musso & Frank.
How long have you been in the business? I've been in the restaurant business for over fifty years. I started working right after arriving from Ecuador. My first job was as a busboy. The first actor that I remember serving was James Dean.
How long have you been working at Musso & Frank? 23 years.
What's your favorite part about working here? To tell you the truth, when you work at a place like this, you have to like what you do. I get to take care of a lot of people. I really enjoy working here.
What do you think is the best drink on the menu? When you say that, everybody likes the way we make the martinis, but any drink that you order, you'll get it the right way. We make Manhattans, margaritas, whiskey sours. If you come here with your girlfriend, and she's never had a martini, then I'd recommend something like a cosmopolitan or a margarita.
What's your favorite drink? Martinis.
Since you started working, what's changed? Before people used to have two to three drinks at most. These days people don't drink as much, maybe two drinks if they have a meal, if not just one.
How much were the drinks here when you started? In the 1970s, drinks were at most $2.50 or $3. These days regular drinks are $10 and $12 with premium liquor.
What's your favorite gin? I like Beefeater and Plymouth. They're both very good quality. Our well gin here is Gilbey's gin.
If you didn't become a bartender, what would you have pursued as a career? Before I came to the United States, I really wanted to be a lawyer or a diplomat. But I love to talk to people and I like peace.
Do you think alcohol creates peace? I think sometimes people come in and have a few too many drinks. If they're a regular, I can tell them that they've had a bit too much. When you're behind the bar, you're the one in charge. So you can keep the peace.
What do you do when you're not working? Now I'm getting three days off a week. I enjoy working.
Do you ever plan to retire completely? I never like to say 'when.' The only thing I realize is, if my mind and my legs give up on me, then that's the time to retire.
Who are some of your favorite customers that you've had here? Harrison Ford. In the old days, Bette Davis. Lucille Ball. Raymond Burr. Jack Lemmon. Jack Webb. Cesar Romero. Like I said, to me, they are like anyone I serve. Just because they're famous doesn't mean they get any special treatment, I take care of everyone the same way.
What's good to eat at Musso & Frank? Honestly everything is good here. The New York steak or Filet Mignon is great. On Fridays we have an excellent Bouillabaisse. Anything that you order is going to be good.
What's the hardest thing about working here? Once in a while, somebody is a little intoxicated and you have to cut them off. But for the most part, there's almost no problems.
What's next? What are going to do tonight when you're off? I'm going home tonight, and my wife is cooking dinner. She has a really good roast chicken with spaghetti.
·All Cocktail Week 2012 Coverage [~ELA~]