Imagine a crowd of people in a dimly lighted space, all vying for your attention. Most are leaning over the bar, yelling orders, trying their best to make eye contact. Someone just whistled. Who got there first? What did the guy to your left order again?
Being a bartender at one of the city's hottest cocktail bars isn't easy. It takes skill, patience, motivation and one heck of a memory. Here's a look at five Los Angeles bartenders making it work. Some have been mixing up drinks for more than a decade. Just don't call them mixologists.
Korchak thinks the term "mixologist" is unnecessary — he considers what he does to be craft bartending. He started making drinks for friends long before starting at a bar at 22.Then after three years of paying his dues, he finally became a bartender. "I love the craftsmanship behind rebuilding classic cocktails and using the same philosophy — combined with modern technique — to create new cocktails," Korchak, 29, said. If you step up to the bar, he'll gladly make you a Honey Badger (Dickel No. 12 whisky, honey syrup, lemon juice, orange bitters, muddled cucumber and jalapeño) or a Sazerac, but there's one thing he simply can't stand. He really, really doesn't like it when someone orders a frozen margarita if there isn't one on the menu and there's no blender in sight.
After graduating from USC, Tarby contemplated culinary school before becoming a bartender. She says she spent nine months harassing Eric Alperin (of 213 Nightlife) for a job at the Varnish. When he finally hired her, he started her off with a single shift as a host, then she finally earned her first shift behind the bar. "There was a time when being a bartender held as much weight as being a doctor or a lawyer," Tarby said. Now Tarby, who's 29, is one of the most respected bartenders in Los Angeles, a part of Proprietors and one of a few women in the business. "It always bums me out when a guest comes in and orders something safe if he or she finds the cocktail menu overwhelming at first glance," Tarby said. "I'm always happy to answer any questions or guide somebody in the right direction." 3612 W. 6th St., Los Angeles, (213) 817-5321.
Peter Lloyd-Jones, head barman at 1886 Bar
The drink that most people request of Lloyd-Jones at 1886 Bar, located at the back of the Raymond restaurant in Pasadena, may be the old-fashioned. But when he's off the clock and drinking himself, Lloyd-Jones, 29, orders a caipirinha, the three-ingredient national drink of Brazil, made with cachaça, lime and sugar. Lloyd-Jones, originally from Australia, became a bartender in the United States to "make a fast buck." He also attributes his career decision to the huge drinking culture in Australia. But don't call him a mixologist, which he considers to be a snobbish term. "I'm a bartender," Lloyd-Jones said. "Always have been and always will be." 1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena, (626) 441-3136, theraymond.com.
Ron Sheriff, lead bartender at Musso & Frank Grill
Before mixing martinis for celebrities at Musso & Frank, Sheriff started his career in the restaurant industry as a bus boy — when he was 18. He spent time working as a server before training to become a bartender. And although he spends most of his time mixing cocktails, Sheriff says he's never been a big drinker. He does, however, admit to being a beer snob. Sheriff, now 64, is a pretty easygoing bartender, but he does remember being peeved at a patron who attempted to whistle at him while working at a bar before he came to Musso & Frank, where he's been for five year. "It was a very crowded bar, and the other bartender asked me, 'Hey, is this guy trying to fetch his dog or what?'" 6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 467-7788, mussoandfrank.com.
Tobin Shea, beverage director at Redbird
Shea started bartending in college to help pay for his tuition. Little did he know he'd make it his profession. Shea made a name for himself behind the bar at Circa and El Cid. Now, at Redbird, the new restaurant from Neal Fraser at Vibiana downtown, he's part of Julian Cox's team of master bartenders. When Shea's doing the drinking, it's a gin martini (wet), a Manhattan or a Negroni, which he says "has snuck its way in the top two sometimes." And when he's behind the bar, Shea, who's now 39, says the most requested drink at Redbird is the old-fashioned, which he attributes to the influence of "Mad Men's" Don Draper. 114 E. 2nd St., Los Angeles, (213) 788-1191, redbird.la.