Welcome to Girl Walks into a Bar, a weekly Gut Check feature that spotlights local bars and bartenders. This week Katie Moulton profiles DeMun Oyster Bar's TJ Vytlacil. Below is a Q&A with Vytlacil followed by the recipe for the award-winning Love Burns.
Would you order a cocktail called "Love Burns"?
Though the moniker might recall a particularly painful one-night stand, it wasn't the name that nearly deterred a top mixologist ─ It was the garnish.
The judge "thought it was just a slice of grapefruit," bartender TJ Vytlacil explains, "and he said, 'How did someone get to this level of competition sticking a grapefruit in their drink?'"
The competition was the 2011 Ultimate MixOff Challenge in New York City on May 14, sponsored by DonQ Rum and the United States Bartenders' Guild (USBG). The skeptical judge was Charles Joly of the Drawing Room in Chicago, one of Vytlacil's idols. When Joly realized that the garnish was, in fact, grapefruit-based and -shaped gelatin infused with liquor, he chose the cocktail to win.
Vytlacil will continue to up the ante by opening his own restaurant and bar, which he says "may be the only place like it in the country and definitely in St. Louis." Also called Blood & Sand ─ do all his creations hint at physical discomfort? ─ the establishment will open downtown (1500 St. Charles Street; www.bloodandsandstl.com) in September 2011. What sets it apart ─ besides the craft cocktails of co-owners Vytlacil and Adam Frager of Pi ─ is the restaurant's members-only distinction.
Members will pay $15 a month to enter the private establishment, to which they can bring guests. There they will be greeted by name and given individualized leather coasters. Allowing the bar and kitchen to build orders around customer preferences, requests will be taken using electronic tablets that track orders and save patrons' palate profiles.
"The emphasis is on hospitality," Vytlacil says. "To create a really fun atmosphere and not get things wrong."
Girl Walks into a Bar caught up with the busy Vytlacil off the clock at DeMun Oyster Bar (740 DeMun Avenue; 314-725-0322), where he still bartends on weekend nights, to sample his "Fruit Forward Long Drink" award-winner ─ sans gelatin garnish.
Describe your bartending style in three words. Intuitive, precise, attentive.
My bar is the only bar in St. Louis where... DeMun is the only place where you can have fresh seafood paired with your fresh craft cocktail.
Girl walks into a bar, orders a ____. She just earned my undying admiration. Antica Formula Negroni because it's my favorite cocktail. It's a bitter gin drink, and you don't see many women enjoying it. Once a woman did ask for a Negroni [one part gin, one part sweet vermouth, one part bitters], and I told her, "You're my new best friend."
Most dumbass ─ or strange ─ drink anyone has ever asked for. One guy asked for "Joe-zay Cervezo" and got mad at me because the José Cuervo bottle was right behind me, but I didn't know what he was talking about. Another time, a Guinness and Red Bull poured into the same glass.
Other than your own bar, where do you go to get a good drink? And what do you have? Taste. And the Drawing Room in Chicago. I'll hop on a train and go there for a night. Charles [Joly] is in charge there, and they can make me whatever drink they choose. I trust them implicitly.
If my friends and I simply must have a round of shots, what should they be? If they say I can make whatever I want, then it'll be straight whiskey. If they say they want gin or vodka, I'll build something around that. My shots are basically classic cocktails, just smaller.
Tell me one thing most people don't know about bartending. A lot of people ─ even bartenders ─ don't know the difference between types of whiskey, but that's easy to learn: Scotch, Bourbon, Irish whiskey...
What's the most exciting or memorable event you've witnessed while tending bar? The dynamic range of people brought together at the classic cocktail nights at 33. There would be a rocket scientist next to a skateboarder next to a chef, having great conversations because they all had this interest in craft cocktails.
Love Burns 2 oz. DonQ Añejo rum 1 oz. lemon juice 1 oz. raw simple syrup 3/4 oz. Barolo Chinato 3 dashes lemon bitters Topped with Rose Champagne
Gelatin grapefruit wedge garnish.