What does a former New York City mixologist think of life on the L.A. cocktail circuit? Gabriella Mlynarczyk, now at Eva after nearly 15 years on the New York scene (most recently, she was behind the now-closed Manhattan speakeasy Woodson and Ford), shared her thoughts on the coastal cocktail variances.
Turn the page for the interview, and check back for several of her latest cocktail recipes.
Squid Ink: Why L.A. after New York?
Gabriella Mlynarczyk: Well, I had my own bar and I lost my lease, that was really it. And I just think all the trials of living in New York got to me. I was there for 14 years. The weather kind of compounded it.
SI: Sunshine is a good thing.
GM: Yeah. I was planning on heading off to Madrid to help a friend with a bar, but then another friend told me to try California. Why not? I literally changed my (airline) ticket.
SI: And now you're the mixologist at Eva. Is that a difficult transition, going from having your own place, where you were in charge of everything, to working with another restaurant/bar's vision?
GM: After managing your own place, it's always hard to be managing someone else's interests. I had also been the GM at restaurants in New York, so when I got to L.A., I was applying for management jobs. To go back to it seemed like a good idea. I literally answered an ad in Craigslist. Mark [Gold] was looking for a manager, and it just evolved into something else. I realized I really wanted to get back to 'creating' something, not managing. And the mixologist he had before had left.
SI: Sometimes, that's how the best things happen.
GM: Exactly. Now I get to be really artistic, which is the payoff. I definitely feed off of Mark, off of his ideas. He's nutty, and I'm a bit of baker. It's fun. But I'm used to being a manager, making that kind of money, so I'm still struggling to figure out how to deal with that, with paying the bills.
SI: Aren't we all these days? Back to the L.A. versus Madrid (or elsewhere) decision. As a New York mixologist, you were confident in the cocktail scene here?
GM: When I first came out here to visit in 2007 and 2008, there really wasn't a huge cocktail culture here. People were playing with bits and pieces. But that was even before the cocktail scene really hit New York City in a big way in 2008 and 2009. Now it's hit so many bars, and not just with new cocktails but even in the classic sense. People realize the way you're going to make money is something more than cosmopolitans and apple martinis -- that's changed everywhere.
SI: You're right, it really wasn't all that long ago apple martinis were everywhere. That's easy to forget these days. What about the cocktail consumer in New York versus L.A.?
GM: Well, I do think that L.A. customers are a little less adventurous, or it seems. I don't know, I haven't been here too long. But we get a lot of people who come in [to Eva] and say they have no idea what any cocktail or ingredient is when we hand them a cocktail menu. And so it's my job to try and convince them to try things. But that's really the older customers and the professional sorts who are wary of any unusual ingredients. Why would anyone put vinegar in a cocktail? These sorts of questions. And part of it is me, too. I get bored making the same thing over and over, so the cocktail menu has grown a lot and changes often, which can be hard for some customers.
SI: You're stationed in a restaurant, rather than, say, a downtown destination bar. And in L.A., so much of your clientele is neighborhood-driven.
GM: Yeah, on the other side, there are also some ingredients that just aren't as readily available as they are in New York. Over here, it's a little bit more of a struggle to find more esoteric things. It's also led me to make more of my own mixers and liqueurs.
SI: Which is easier now that Brown has lifted the state ban on in-house infusions.
GM: [Laughs] And also, I'm kind of on a budget with Mark.
SI: Ah, of course. It's not your bar/restaurant to spend as you please as in the past.
GM: That's the hardest part for me now, as I was used to having my own place. So now I do a lot more of my own infusions, my own homemade jams. I just started making liqueurs, like a lapsang souchong liqueur, because it's so cost effective.
SI: Interesting. There is so much talk about house-made infusions and syrups these days, and of course that new law just passed making them legal. But we forget that they're also cost effective.
GM: Exactly. There was a liqueur I wanted to buy that was around $39, a lapsang souchong tea liqueur.
SI: That one that Qi Spirits now makes?
GM: Yeah, that one. That's the sort of thing I think about more -- do I have the budget to really buy that now? So I went to Groundwork and picked up some lapsang tea. I made a syrup reduction and added rum, and there it was. It cost me maybe $6.
SI: You make it sound easy.
GM: Well, it is. If you're using something like a tea, you need to add quite a lot of tea to make it concentrated. Once the tea gets into the alcohol, if you don't use enough, it's not going to have enough of an impact on the drink.
SI: Makes sense. What cocktail did you make the tea liqueur for?
GM: It's based on an old fashioned, but here it's Scotch, the lapsang liqueur, dark rum, bitters and a flamed orange. It's called a "Flintlock" cocktail, after the old gun. I have another with the liqueur called the "Fawkestail."
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Check back for the infused tea liqueur and both of Mlynarczyk's new cocktail recipes.
[More from Jenn Garbee @eathistory + eathistory.com