Although Los Angeles has an abundance of imaginative bartenders, there are a talented few that truly rise above the jigger. To give credit to those who have filled our glasses with some of the finest concoctions we’ve tasted, we wish to raise a toast to LA’s six most exceptional drinkmakers of this year. They don’t just make a mean drink; they invent new flavors and styles, further defining our city as the cocktail town to watch out for.
Bar manager Cari Hah is a formidable cocktail-making force, creating perfectly Instagrammable yet complex cocktails. Her drinks may be light and whimsical — like her Apple Bottom Jeans cocktail with fresh watermelon juice, CÎROC apple vodka, Saint-Germain, and sherry — but they feature layers of flavors. Big Bar was already a drink destination of bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts, but once Cari Hah took over its bar program late last year, she built it up to be a compelling option for the masses.
Today we’d like to introduce you to Cari Hah.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Cari. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there. My first experience in a bar was working as a cocktail waitress in a busy high-volume club when I was 21. My managers stuck me behind the bar because security was tired of having to intervene when customers would try to pick me up. I just did it for fun and it was such great money for basically having a good time. I never thought of it as a serious job or a career track at all. After I graduated college I went into finance as an investment banker. I really hated it the whole time I was there. Being stuck behind a computer and a desk for 80-100 hours a week was torturous and after 3 years I decided to leave. I was sort of trying some different things but while I was trying to figure out a career path I decided to go back to the bar just to make cash. I started working at bars in Los Angeles just when the craft cocktail “revolution” in Los Angeles began. This was a type of bartending I had never experienced before and I fell in love with it 12 years ago and never looked back! I have worked at several bars as a bartender, opened several bars as a consultant, as well as working as a brand ambassador part time for a liquor company. I am currently the very proud bar manager/tiger mom of Big Bar!
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome? The last 12 years being in this industry have definitely not been smooth. When I was starting out I didn’t have anyone to help me or give me advice. I didn’t have a “mentor” or anyone willing to spend time helping me get my bearings in this wide world of craft bartending. I spent hours just trying to learn spirit knowledge, cocktail specs, techniques and how to speak about spirits. I was not given many opportunities, maybe because I didn’t look like a typical “mixologist”, maybe because I was a woman, maybe because I was Asian. I wasn’t taken seriously a lot of the time. What was instrumental in my establishing myself in this industry was joining forces with other women who were also struggling with the same situation I was in. I partnered with Jaymee Mandeville, now a portfolio manager at Bacardi to do a guest bartending series at bars all around Los Angeles. I started working at the historical Coles bar in downtown that at the time had a woman as the bar manager, Brent Falco. She had a vision to bring women together and she urged me to come to work with her. She also hired Zahra Bates (now the national brand ambassador for Courvoisier cognac) to work with us at Cole’s and we were the first all-woman team ever behind that bar. We established ourselves as the destination for exceptional cocktails and service. It was joining forces with other women that really helped me to step out in this industry that is traditionally a total boys club. I never let any of the obstacles or discouraging experiences keep me from forging ahead with my love of service, cocktails and spirits.
Big Bar – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition? Big Bar is attached to Alcove Cafe in Los Feliz. We are a neighborhood bar with a picturesque garden patio. Opened daily, Big Bar is both a destination day spot for cocktails and casual setting as well as an evening neighborhood bar. Throughout it’s +8 years in Los Angeles, Big Bar has been known for throwing large scaled themed community events, a summer series of movies on our patio, and much more with a cocktail-centric twist. Our cocktails are known to be creative and whimsical twists on classic cocktails. The cocktail philosophy for me is centered around the ethos to respect the spirits that are in the drinks. I do not create cocktails to “cover up the taste” of alcohol. Our drinks showcase and respect the beauty of the spirit. Big Bar also centers around the principle of hospitality. Bartenders at Big Bar are exceptional in both cocktail making as well as hospitality. In an industry where fast turnover of employees is normal, Big Bar is an outlier. The bar team at Big Bar has enjoyed a loyal and dedicated staff that has cultivated a sense of community not only with each other but with the community they serve. The most junior bartender of Big Bar just celebrated her 4 years anniversary. Many of our current bartenders have been with the program since the opening of our bar. Collectively the bar team has been at Big Bar 49 years! I truly believe, with confidence, that our heart for service and hospitality is unmatched anywhere ~ where excellent service, creative cocktails, and the warmth of our welcome invites our guest to be part of the #BigBarFam.
What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on? I was very proud of winning Timeout award’s “best bar team in Los Angeles” two years in a row in 2015 and 2016. We were the only category that had a repeat winning!
I am also personally proud of seeing bartenders who I have mentored become amazing bar managers/bartenders in their own right.
- Address: 1929 Hillhurst Ave
Los Angeles CA 90020
- Website: https://www.alcovecafe.com/bigbar
- Phone: 323.644.0100
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: bigbaralcove
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bigbaralcove/
- Twitter: bigbaralcove
Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.
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