Master Mixologist: Tess Anne Sawyer of Lokal Eatery & Bar on the Waterfront in Jersey City
Tess Anne Sawyer has been in the Restaurant and Beverage industry for over 17 years. Working through every FOH role, she found her stride and it's clear her skills are best suited behind the bar. She spent 8 years behind some of the most beastly bars in New York City mastering her skills. Those years of hard work have allowed her to bartend globally and helped her earn a National Speed Rack title. Most recently, she has been spending her time consulting on cocktail menus and training bar talent across the continent. Living and working in different cities over the years has led to a great appreciation and passion for the bartending community. She hopes to help build the community in whatever city she is in with her project Bar Benefits.
Broadwayworld.com had the pleasure of interviewing Tess Anne Sawyer for our "Master Mixologist" feature.
When did you first become interested in the cocktail culture?
When I was 19, I worked as a server at a restaurant where we had a bar in an unused back room. We had a list of 10 different "martinis" and if they were ever ordered, we would have to go to the bar in the back and make them ourselves from a little recipe book as we had no bartender. I followed the recipes just fine, but had no idea how long or hard to shake or stir a cocktail for and probably didn't do it right. This was my first peek into the cocktail world. After college I moved to New York City where my graphic design gig was boring and just wasn't cutting it. I got a side gig as a server at a busy restaurant in the financial district. As the newbie, I always had to work Sundays which were of course slower nights in that area. In between serving tables I would hang at the service end of the bar and watch and ask questions, probably annoyingly so. But the bartenders were sweet to me and eventually convinced the manager to let me start training behind the bar. I still wasn't making great drinks, as this was a time when most drinks were still too sweet and had too many liqueurs in them, but I learned how to be accurate and fast. I eventually found myself working behind a bar where I met two regulars, promising to open up the best bar in the world, they called it The Dead Rabbit. They were kind enough to let me sit in on their bartender trainings which is where I really started learning how to make classics and actually make them well. And so, it goes!
What innovations in mixology and bartending do you find fascinating?
There have been many innovations through my years in the industry and continues to be- types of ice, house made bitters and ingredients, molecular gastronomy, etc. but I am currently really keen on the anti-waste movement. This is something I had been working towards without really realizing it for years. It always upset me to see how many oranges we'd go through in a night for peels for Old Fashioned and Negroni, and then just throw the rest of the fruit away because "orange juice doesn't make good cocktails". These days were can acidify juices or use them in a house made syrup. There are so many ways to repurpose ingredients you already have. Also, new non-alcoholic spirits and products. They've changed the low and no alcohol drink game!
How do restaurant and bar guests encourage your creativity?
When they ask for non-alcoholic drinks! It can be a great challenge to make them something as thoughtful as tasty as an alcoholic libation. It's easy to be lazy and just make a lemonade variation.
What are your preferred "classic cocktails" and why?
A caipirinha is my all-time favorite cocktail. Not only do I love Cachaça, but this expression of the spirit is the most enjoyable. When made to my liking, after shaking all the ingredients together and pouring them into a glass, you get this satisfying textural experience of the muddled lime pulp, sugar granules, and ice chips, all supported by this bright and funky spirit. It's just so refreshing!
Some other favorites are a Dunhill, London Calling, Tom Collins, and of course the almighty Negroni. If you can't tell, I also love gin.
What are some of your favorite infusions and how you like to use them in drinks.
I love fat and oil washes, whether it be coconut, butter, peanut, and even meat fats- they not only add flavor but they provide a beautiful velvety texture.
Tell us about a few of your signature cocktails and why they are distinctive.
Although it's fun to get nerdy and experimental while making cocktails, I definitely love to make what I call "crushable crowd pleasers". These are going to be those drinks on the menu that makes just about anyone happy, and you can usually trade out most spirits in it for those who know what they like or aren't feeling as adventurous.
Give us your perfect pairing for a cocktail and a culinary selection.
If I'm honest, I don't particularly enjoy cocktail and food pairings as they usually both have multiple ingredients making it them combative or overwhelming and therefore muddled. But I will say just a nice wet gin martini and oysters or dishes from the raw bar is usually a pleasant and safe bet.
Tell us a little about your restaurant.
We love creating drinks and designing menus, but the core of our consultancy is based around training. We want to train fast, efficient, knowledgeable, and hospitable bartenders that guests feel confident, comfortable, and excited to get a drink from.
For Lokal, I have created a few signature cocktails with local ingredients and produce to keep things fresh and seasonal. In addition, we have added a backbone of classic cocktails to the menu so the guests always have something familiar and comforting to go back to.
Lokal Eatery & Bar is located on the scenic waterfront at 2nd St., Unit 101, Jersey City, NJ 07302. Visit their web site at https://lokaljc.com/ or call them at 201.222.6800.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Tess Anne Sawyer