Rich Man, Pour Man

MEET 5 Ventura Boulevard bartenders … and why you should grab a barstool and have a drink with them.

Jackson, Oakfire Pizza

Popular Oakfire Pizza features one of the longer bar-tops along the Boulevard, and bartender Jackson Kuehn works it like Mick Jagger works a stage—tirelessly and pleasingly. “I always smile while I pay attention to my customers’ needs and wants,” says Kuehn, 34, looking more like actor Matthew Perry than he needs to. “I feel good when the patron feels good. We’re like rock stars. Everybody loves a bartender.” The son of a government official (read C.I.A.), Kuehn was born in Austin, Texas and grew up in cities around the world. He observes that there’s a common denominator among the earth’s human inhabitants. “People love to talk incessantly about their current state of affairs,” acknowledges Kuehn. “I’m similar to a psychiatrist in that I listen, but I’ll occasionally offer advice like, ‘Don’t ask me to make some drink you ordered in Las Vegas at four in the morning.’” He shamelessly plugs Oakfire’s pizzas as the best in L.A. and has been known to direct some of his female fans toward the Rocky Road dessert. “They leave with their eyes gleaming with pure happiness,” he quips. Kuehn’s 10 years of nights as a bartender (he’s also presided over Beauty Bar in Hollywood) have supported his days as an actor. While his theme song is “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey, his refined accuracy and supersonic approach are what makes him a leading mixologist on the Boulevard. Still, his ultimate goal is to someday open “a sophisticated, aesthetically pleasing coffeehouse, unlike the one in Friends.”

Signature drink:

Ice cubes
heavy pour of vanilla-flavored vodka 
dash of Chambord and pineapple juice 
shake vigorously
garnish with freshly-cut lime

Serve him: Old Fashioned or Belgian ale

 

 

Juan, Daily Grill

The unofficial Bar Code of Ethics casually states that a tender of bar needn’t engage his or her client in trivial banter. To the consumer who frequents the hardtop at Daily Grill (Studio City), under the tutelage of Juan Rosas, the conversation is anything but mundane. In fact, much laughter can be heard over the big-screen news and sports programming. The comfort factor rates highly. And Rosas doesn’t make a bad drink either. Despite 20 years of experience, Rosas, 43, of Mexican origin, acknowledges, “I’m still learning from my guests. Every day, regulars and new patrons walk in with their own stories. But at the end of the last pour, we’re all good people.” With Studio City housing many thespians, don’t be surprised if you’re sharing bar space with actors like Robert Forster, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Johnny Knoxville, Cote de Pablo and William Devane. Rosas likes to think of himself as the coach—behind the line but in control at busy stretches. His personal theme song—“We Are the Champions” by Queen—reflects his style. He says a visit to his bar on the busiest day, Valentine’s Day, is mandatory. Rosas grins. “If you tell your sweetheart how important your relationship is with a delicious meal and fantastic drinks provided by me, it will make my day. I’ll be happy—mission accomplished.” Apparently one of the few bartenders without a second career, Rosas quickly amends that. “I’m a father. It’s more difficult than tending bar because there is no handbook for raising children,” he says. “But I married my sweetheart, a wonderful woman who has nurtured our kids into becoming decent, respectful young people who will find their own careers.”

Signature drink:

Tequila
fresh lime
lemon juice
fresh mint
shake well

Serve him: Club soda with cranberry juice

 

 

Eddie, Café Cordiale

Sometimes one is in the perfect place at the perfect time. If you’re a singer like Brooklyn native Eddie Sanabria, tending bar at the Valley’s venerable supper club Café Cordiale could resemble a dream. Crafting a second drink for musically inclined bar patrons like Sheila E., Johnny Gill, Dave Weckl, Peter Erskine and Snuffy Walden could be the ultimate compliment. “For the regulars, Cordiale is a hidden gem hiding in plain sight,” remarks Sanabria, 39. “You can have a quiet, intimate dinner and party to world class music the same night.” He’s been known to “take five” behind the bar and perform with Masta and The Edge of Soul on Fridays at the club. While his bar is “casual yet sophisticated,” Sanabria has no time for oxymorons. He reveals that Café Cordiale is where “everybody knows your name” and the location of many first dates. “Whether you’re with a date or not, you’re home, you’re comfortable, you’re safe.” Sanabria likens himself to center midfielder Carlos Valderrama or point guard Magic Johnson, in that he sees the whole playing field or court and he knows when to fold. After enduring some light-hearted, sports-related ribbing from Sanabria, a regular once said to him, “Eddie, if you didn’t pour such a good drink, I’d kick your ass.” Sanabria’s family taught him to “never judge a book by its cover,” which, translated into Los Angelese, means “poorly dressed individuals could be extremely wealthy and want to spend some of it” at his bar. “Georgy Porgy” by Toto is his theme, because Toto is a classic Valley band, and the tune is often jammed at Café Cordiale, a classic Valley venue.

Signature drink: 

Mai Tai: rum
spiced rum
coconut rum
orange juice
pineapple
grenadine
Myers’s rum floater

Serve him: “It all depends on who I’m drinking with, where I’m drinking, and who’s pouring.”

 

 

Meredith, Spark Woodfire Grill

If every bar has an employee who radiates like a welcoming committee, then Spark’s spark is Meredith Eckles. Born to a U.S. military family serving in Wiesbaden, Germany, Eckles credits her father, who tended bar in college, with showing her the ropes of her decade-long trade. “I prefer creating drinks to being a waitress, because I have control of the outcome,” says Eckles, 32, her smile displaying confidence. Oklahoma was a destination for her peripatetic tribe when she was a youngster. The importance of where she grew up is not lost on her. “I’m the tailback at Spark,” she confirms. “If we’re running the ball, then we’re playing well. If I fumble, the entire team suffers.” Eckles’ idea of a piece of music that perfectly captures her cozy bar is “Here Comes A Regular” by the Replacements. Her regulars include noted somebodies like William Shatner, Billy Corgan, Paula Abdul and Alex Trebek. But she claims the one-time sightings are more exciting. “Barbra Streisand, Slash, Robert Downey, Jr., Kiefer Sutherland and Larry David top my list.” Her enthusiasm never curbed, Eckles thinks Valentine’s Day at Spark is the perfect place to snuggle. “There are only half a dozen seats at the bar, so you’ll be able to hear your date talk better than at another bar,” advises Eckles. “Plus you can act like you planned to sit there when you actually forgot to make a reservation.” Spark may have to punt soon. A seamless transition to a career in massage therapy is in progress for Eckles. She acknowledges that she’s ready to “hang up my martini shaker,” knowing that she could be “contributing more to the world than the perfect lemon drop.”

Signature drink:

Meredith’s Famous Spici-tini:
Absolut Peppar Vodka
spicy Bloody Mary mix
Tabasco
Worcestershire
lemon
lime
olive juice
shaken and served in a large martini glass with a salted rim and fresh ground pepper on top 

Serve her: Chimay Blue Label beer, a Napa cabernet, an oaky, buttery chardonnay or a Glenlivet

 

 

Steve & Kirk, Stanley’s

If you’ve never seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, it’s playing four nights a week at the perennially well-attended, long-time watering hole Stanley’s. Steve DeWinter and Kirk Driscoll, like a cool, modern version of Butch and Sundance—still always having each other’s back—preside over a square, marbled bar with numerous satisfied customers returning for the well-crafted drinks as well as the comradery. DeWinter’s and Driscoll’s track record of 21 working years together makes imbibers feel at ease. “We have many regulars, because Stanley’s is a comfortable, neighborhood bar where we have fun,” explains DeWinter, 48. “The main reason clients return, though, is that I have the booze!” Besides working 40 hours a week, the San Fernando Valley natives find time to follow their creative muses. For Driscoll, that includes being a highly commissioned photographer of the female form and landscapes. His work was displayed at Orlando Gallery in Tarzana. DeWinter enjoys a rock-and-roll life with his band, Daddy and The Innocents, performing club gigs throughout Southern California. One wild night at Stanley’s, he played a CD of ‘40s cartoon music composer Raymond Scott over the house system. DeWinter smiles guiltily. “It added a zany, wacky quality to the bar.” The saloon hosts enjoy a certain autonomy found in photography, music and bartending. “Just as Annie Leibovitz controls her shoot, bartenders are given the run of the bar,” says Driscoll, 58. “We’re rewarded—and not only in tips.” The bounty includes a celluloid chat with Tarantino, a beer with Gretzky and singing a song with Dolly Parton in the bathroom for Driscoll; and hanging with the late Lakers announcer Chick Hearn, talking shop with songwriter Jimmy Webb and carding singer Pink for DeWinter. Their bar adventures have resulted in another creative niche: book writing. Burn the Ice (Amazon Kindle, and in an effort to fully disclose, co-authored by yours truly) details “all the unexpected episodes at Stanley’s that landed in our pile of ice behind the bar, so to speak.”

Steve DeWinter’s signature drink:

classic Manhattan:
bourbon whiskey (Maker’s Mark)
sweet vermouth
a dash of bitters 

Serve him: Miller Lite

Kirk Driscoll’s signature drink:

Kirk’s Coffee:
espresso coffee
Grand Marnier
Bailey’s
dark cream cocoa
steamed milk 

Serve him: Water

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