Food & Wine: Justin Pike

Courtesy of Justin Pike

Justin Pike

Best New Mixologist 2016

Where He Won: The Tasting Kitchen; Venice, CA. At The Tasting Kitchen, nearly everything (butchering, pickling, curing) is done in-house; cocktails also get star treatment, like the Faux Winter (tequila, cold cider and cardamom) and the 5,000 Neckties (rye, cachaça and maraschino).

Earliest bartending experience:

My first real job was in a bar in a small town in Connecticut near where I grew up. I was a busser, and watched the servers all scramble around on top of each other. Meanwhile, the bartender seemed to have it much better, perched behind the bar on his own, commanding the attention of anyone who wanted alcohol. Plus all the girls liked him. It looked like a sweet gig.

One thing every home bartender should have on hand:

Ice. Clean and lovely ice. It’s at least 30% of your drink. There’s nothing worse than having a well-crafted cocktail that’s sitting in old chip ice with freezer burn. Give me a juicy, delicious piece of ice. Huge turn-on.

What makes a good bartender?

Ahh, the best question ever. I just had a meeting with my guys last week and we talked at length on this. Someone told me a story once about his first experience tending bar. He was sitting at his local spot in college and the owner came up to him and said, “Hey my bartender never showed up and I gotta leave! Can you help out?!” And he responded, “What? I don’t know how to bartend. I’ve never done it before.” The owner replied, “Just pretend you’re throwing a party and you want everyone to have fun…” That’s a bartender.

Go-to drink at the end of a shift?

Manhattan. Or a Martinique daiquiri [rum, maraschino liqueur and lime]. Or both.

Coolest cocktail name you’ve ever come up with? How did you arrive at it?

“Moped on the Freeway.” It has the most ridiculous name for a reason. The cocktail is gin and citrus with pineapple and boatloads of bitters. It’s one of those drinks that you think is going to be sweet and smooth, and then suddenly gets bitter right at the end. It tightens right up and goes where it needs to go. I thought of someone out on the 405 in a moped. Sure, it seems like a good idea at first, weaving in and out of stuck traffic. Then you realize you’re out on a freeway driving a glorified bicycle.

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