"Mixologists are like mad scientists sans lab coats, dreaming up new weapons and techniques"
One of the ironies of being a blogger in a tourist town like Santa Fe is that the times that I should be hitting the writing the most is the hardest time to actually do it. Sleep is just a cheap caffeine substitute, but hell you gotta do it some time.
Any-who, recently I had a chance to sit down with my good friend James Reis, Bar Manager at The Anasazi Restaurant, 114 Washington Ave. James and have known each other for nearly 10 years and I was very excited when he made time to sit with me for this interview:
Chris: Tell me about your background.
James: Not much of a background. I fell into bartending--didn't have anyone pushing me or a family member/friend to emulate. I knew that I liked talking to people, creating a pub-like atmosphere where ideas/thoughts could be exchanged.
C: How did you get your start in the bar and restaurant world?
J: I worked in some restaurants very part-time in California, but didn't take it seriously until moving to New Mexico. Believe it or not, I got my first real opportunity to bartend for a living at Applebee’s! Dream big, my friends...
C: As a bartender, you work late and unusual hours. How do you find the balance between family and work?
J: I'm lucky to have an encouraging and understanding wife--without her, I'd be working for the state or some 9-5 job. Of course, it also works out when you get to see your family in the morning. Still, I have the worst sleep schedule ever...except for my wife.
C: Let's talk about the Anasazi Restaurant.
J: The Anasazi's bar is a classic bar in my mind--too small for the guests to be far from one another, creating a more communal environment. It's one of the friendliest bars I've ever worked in or visited (which makes the number much bigger). If you have a party of 30, it may not be the best place, but for great food and drinks in an intimate settings, I believe we're among the best.
C: Do you consider yourself a bartender or mixologist, and how do you define the difference?
J: Bartenders, in my mind, are grunts in the war against bland cocktails. Mixologists are like mad scientists sans lab coats, dreaming up new weapons and techniques. I consider myself a bartender dabbling in mixology; there are certainly people who do both well (hi Chris!).
C: Where do you get the ideas for your drinks?
J: I get my ideas from all over the place--different ingredients in the supermarket, items from the chef shelf, cooking shows...I'm really influenced by big, unique flavors.
C: Who are your mixology influences?
J: Isaac from the Love Boat is huge...style and grace. Of course, people like Jamie Boudreaux loom large because of his use of cooking techniques and ingredients to elevate his cocktails.
C: What about personal influences?
J: I draw a lot of inspiration from the Santa Fe bartending community--so much talent here for such a (relatively) small town. Reading other peoples menus not only gives me hints on different spirits and ingredients, but also acts as a gentle nudge towards new personal territory rather than a retread of someone else's hard work.
C: Do you have a favorite spirit to work with?
J: I don't have a favorite, per se. I love the challenge of taking ignored or underutilized spirits and putting a fresh face on them. So tequila and gin, in my opinion, fit the bill.
C: What would you consider your signature cocktail?
J: My signature cocktail right now would have to be the Spiced Biscochito created for the Silver Coyote Cocktail Contest. The beautiful white whiskey is infused with anise, and the glass is rimmed with a combination of brown sugar, cinnamon and pimenton pepper. Lots of flavor in there! My pomegranate martini is pretty delicious. Even guys think so.
C: When you’re out and about what do you like to drink and where do you go?
J: When I'm out, I typically stick to Tanqueray and Tonic--although I've never turned down Irish Car Bombs. My bars of choice are (in no particular order): Staab House at La Posada, Secreto, Junction, Tinstar, Matador, and Cowgirl.
C: Have you ever gotten star struck by the celebs that come into your bar?
J: I'm bad at spotting celebrities, although a hometown author I see from time- to-time is one of the greatest writers this side of the 'meridian'.
C: What is the funniest thing that has ever happened on a shift?
J: I was working at Outback supervising when a gentlemen said he had a problem with a past meal. He said the lobster and porterhouse he'd had a couple of weeks ago wasn't satisfactory. I asked if he was sure that he'd eaten that meal here in Santa Fe. He said he was. I informed him that the restaurant had never served lobster, and that we'd been out of the porterhouse for approximately three weeks. "So I'm not going to get a free meal?" Silence. Pretty uncomfortable for both of us, especially for me since I was trying everything I could not to call him an out-an-out liar.
C: What is your most memorable moment behind the bar?
J: When an in-house guest drunkenly sniffed a woman (on the shoulder) that he didn't know. This happened--I have witnesses.
C: What does the future hold for you?
J: The future is great! I'm fortunate to work where I do and have unqualified support from the restaurant managers. I will continue to grow as a bartender, taste more spirits, think more deeply about ingredients, and deliver the best experience I can!
C: What is your favorite drinking or bar quote?
J: Too easy. "Hey Spida, get me a Cutty and Water on your way back."(from Goodfellas)