Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Bartender Diaries - Marcos Tello

A One In Seven Grand…

When I met Marcos (down at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans) the first thing that bowled me over was his pure, unadulterated passion for cocktails. This is something I crave, respect and relate to in a person. (Cocktail “geeks” of the world, unite!)

Of course, his boyish good looks, mischievous grin and high energy are the next qualities that hit with a wallop. When all that registers, and you sit yourself down in the illustrious Seven Grand for one of his well-crafted cocktails, that’s where the real fun begins.

This LA-native “got his feet wet” bartending at friends’ parties at the age of 17. When he turned 21, he started bartending at T.G.I.Friday’s. But, he considers his bartending job at Island’s, in 2005, as the first place where he got to “take a crack at Mixology.” He explains, “We did specialty drinks. That’s when I fell in love with the craft.”

His enthusiasm for cocktails grew and he enrolled in Gary Regan’s Cocktails in the Country, in 2006. Upon return to LA, with a few more tricks up his sleeve, Marcos began designing drinks for the Hacienda Golf Club, where he worked closely with the chef to create symbiotic menus. From there, he bellied up to the bar at Table 8, where he met his cocktail co-conspirator, Damian Windsor.

The two founded their own cocktail consulting company which helps restaurants and bars to retrain bartenders (when to shake and when to stir) and instill impressive cocktail programs. In fact, they have just been hired to create the cocktail line-up for this year’s Emmy Awards. (Way to go, guys!)

Both Marcos and Damian can be found behind the bar at Seven Grand, in downtown LA, most days of the week. If you have not been there yet, you are definitely missing something. It is masculine and gritty and glamorous, all at the same time. It’s the kind of watering hole where lawyers, artists, “Hollywood types” and cocktail connoisseurs all play pool together, while imbibing a quality beverage.

Vincenzo Marianella (one of my all-time favorite barmen who is currently at Providence – and on The Liquid Muse lineup) came up with Seven Grand’s original cocktail list. Five of his drinks remain, while Marcos and Damian have since added more. Marcos recalls, “When Cedd (Seven Grand founder) came back from London and saw what they were doing, we added 10 drinks of our own and categorized them according to the old standards of the 1890’s: punches, fizzes, juleps, daisies, crustas and sours.”

Marcos is a sponge for learning from the top guys (and gals) in the country, and while in New Orleans, this past July, he took a Mint Julep class with Chris McMillan at the Ritz, who is known for the best juleps in the country.

Marcos and Damian oversee the bar staff at Seven Grand, ensuring that every drink is as good as the last. “We make sure bartenders are stirring for a 30 seconds and shaking for a good 10 seconds. Ramos Gin Fizz, for example, requires shaking for a full two minutes. If necessary, we hand it off to each other. That dedication breeds a bartender who has pride in their work and can balance their cocktails.”

They’ve gone so far as to create a bartender manual for the crew, which is strictly enforced. Marcos says, “We do trainings every month. They know that if they aren’t up to par, they could be out the door. On top of that, they have to learn everything about whiskey. We are constantly asked questions about whiskey so we have to be on top of our game. We give everyone a whiskey bible.”

Seven Grand is the kind of place that pays attention to every important detail, including glassware. (I shot a video of Marcos at Seven Grand giving a glass presentation for The Liquid Muse Cocktail Show, a few weeks ago. That will be going up shortly.)

When not honing his craft behind the bar, Marcos pursues theatre and sports. He runs the LA Marathon annually, and challenges himself with a new physical activity each year. He shares, “Last year, it was rock climbing. This year it’s surfing.” I’m guessing that if he approaches those endeavors with the same gusto as Mixology, he’ll be tearing up Hawaii’s North Shore before the year is out.

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