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Bartenders Around LA Dish on Their First Cocktail Experiences

Sometimes all it takes is the first taste.

Matthew Kang is the Lead Editor of Eater LA. He has covered dining, restaurants, food culture, and nightlife in Los Angeles since 2008. He's the host of K-Town, a YouTube series covering Korean food in America, and has been featured in Netflix's Street Food show.

Bartenders, managers, and bar owners around Los Angeles have helped transform the city into a hotbed of great cocktail activity. Here now, some notable characters dish on their first cocktail experience, be it something very simple or something a little more elaborate. Sometimes all it takes is a single sip

Mark Houston, Butchers & Barbers: It was out of our dad's glass and it was an Old Fashioned. The first beer we had was out of his coffee mug.


Anthony Settecase, The Venice Whaler: My first great cocktail experience was when I was walking home from work in NYC. I stopped by this scary little wooden door with no sign that was about four doors from where I lived. It took me about a month to build up the courage to finally walk in . Once inside, I saw beautiful tin ceilings, candles everywhere and a stainless bar loaded with fresh fruit and herbs.

The bartender was dressed in a vest and tie and there was a DJ spinning all old school soul records. It turned out that it was Sasha Petraskes sophomore bar to Milk and Honey. It was my first experience with Carpano Antica and Rittenhouse rye whisky in a Manhattan and it blew my mind. I chatted everyone up and within a week secured a job there, and eventually became their head bartender. I had the best times working there my and it was one of my favorite jobs to date. The bar was called Eastside Company and I am sad to say it has since closed.


Gabriela Mlynarczyk, Ink: I think my first legal cocktail was a dirty gin martini at a restaurant in London called Mitchell O'Brien. But as a kid I would sip my mum's snow balls all the time (without her knowing) and would have weak shandies. A snow ball is a combination of an egg liqueur called advocat and babycham (cheap champagne)

Nick Griff

Nick Griffith, Honeycut: My first cocktail memory is a little fuzzy (not surprising). But, I remember starting to enjoy and learn more about cocktails at Palate Food+Wine in Glendale. I prefer to eat at a restaurant bar over the dinning room. Dinning rooms are boring. At Palate, Antoine Villaume was the head barman. I don't know how long he had been bar tending, but it didn't matter. He was so enthusiastic about learning new drinks and sharing them that I started getting excited to try whatever new drink he had been working on.

This was in early 2008, so the cocktail boom was just getting started in LA and I remember he had just purchased a new cocktail book by David Wondrich called, "Imbibe!" Every time we'd go in, Antoine always had a couple of new drinks to share and we'd talk about how to change them and make variations. One night he made an Aviation - Gin, Lemon Juice, Luxardo Maraschino and Creme de Violette. At the time Creme de Violette wasn't exactly easy to find, so Antoine started making his own and brought it to the bar.

I was so impressed that he had gone to such lengths to make this drink. The violette took several weeks to make but the outcome was something really special. Antoine introduced me to several of my still favorite cocktails - The Daiquiri, The Corpse Reviver #2, The Final Ward. Those experiences are what got me hooked on cocktails. Thanks Antoine!


Brady Weise, 1886: "My first real cocktail experience was at the Alembic in San Francisco. I had a Blood and Sand, I instantly knew I had been missing out on a lot. I used to go there every Sunday for brunch for weeks and pick the bartenders brain about spirits and watch them work. It was pretty amazing and I learned so much!"

Josh Goldman

Josh Goldman, Brilliantshine: First cocktail I ever had was what ever I could find in met parents liquor cabinet while they weren't home and since I started bartending in the 90s there aren't to many standouts from the beginning of my career but i can still remember that the first cocktail Julian made for me at one of Rivera's friends and family dinners back in 2008 was a Champs Elysees.


Sara Kay Godot, Zengo: My first "cocktail experience" was in FL at an age too young for me to name, at a bar that shall remain nameless to protect the innocent... needless to say it was a HORRIBLE prepackaged strawberry daiquiri that was so sweet and off balance that I turned into a wine and beer girl full time.

My first GREAT cocktail experience was in 2008 at The Violet Hour in Chicago. I had a properly made Old Fashioned table side with a flaming orange peel and all; in an atmosphere that is akin to if the Mad Hatter's Tea Party was actually a speakeasy. I was so infatuated that immediately that same year, I began to professionally branch out from a path of being just a Sommelier, into the wonderful world of Spirits and Mixology as well. In the past six years I have fallen pretty deep down that rabbit hole.

Eric Bugosh, The Spare Room: My first bar experience in Los Angeles happened about a decade ago. I was 19, living in Orange County, without a care in the world. Some friends took me to some all ages nightclub on Avenue of the Stars. There was a 21 and up bar area. I had no fake ID, so I cozied up to some ladies and flat out asked if they would buy me drinks. They said sure. I think a bottle of corona was like 6 bucks. I couldn't believe how much beer cost. The girls told me a Long Island iced tea was the best bang for my buck. I must have had like 47.

Steve "Moses" Moloney, Tipple & Brine: Many moons ago, I had my first job as a barback working in an Irish resteraunt somewhere in the heart of downtown Boston. The owner was a big man named 'Big Pat' McCarthy. One night after the place closed I was finishing up my cleaning and stocking when Mr McCarthy, who was sitting at the end of the bar with his big cigar and Scotch and water, says to me, "Hey kid, I want you to make me a drink.

So I obliged and I grabbed a glass and put a few ice cubes in it. Before I did anything else, Big Pat says to me, " no go ova dere and take a scoop of ice and fill it to da brim and bring it to me." So I did. He picks up the glass and points to the top and says, "see how much ice is in the glass kid? Dats where da money is and don't eva forget it. I think you're gonna be in dis business a long time. No go ova dere and make me a Scotch and watah." Then I made first drink. I was seventeen. Over thirty years later I'm still pouring drinks and you can bet I fill that glass to the brim with ice every time. Thanks Big Pat.


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