Position: General Manager at Harlowe
Industry Lineage: Messhall 2012, Eveleigh 2013, Harlowe 2014 – present
Called Out by: Karen Grill of Sassafras Saloon
Shout Outs: Julian Cox, Josh Goldman, Dave Kupchinsky, Dushan Zaric, Scott Baird & Josh Harris
Call Outs: Ben Scott & Zach Patterson
Los Angeles is home to some of the most incredible talent in the world. People flock from everywhere hoping to be a part of Hollywood and the hope of one day breaking into the world of entertainment. Passion is what has drawn them all here, and what helped create the brilliant surplus of gifted and incredible entrepreneurs that now have entrenched themselves into the culture that LA has to offer. Karen Grill of Sassafras Saloon introduced us to Chris Amirault, a Boston transplant with an inner comedian. His passion for acting brought him to LA, and his spirit to be great lead him to his current position at GM of Harlowe. We sat down with Chris, and here is what he shared with us.
1. What opportunity up to this point has made you grow the most creatively? (doesn’t have to be bar specific, possibly a childhood art class, or parental support etc.)
In my junior year of high school my guidance counselor, Lynn Weltler, made me audition for a play. I had never done any acting before. Soon after, I was giving up my basketball shoes for the stage. The new challenge showed me that I could pursue anything if I had the passion to do it. Every venture I try, I also keep that memory in my back pocket. It doesn’t matter how old you are, where you come from, what little experience you have, if you attack something with a “leap & the net will appear” attitude, I think that you will be rewarded.
2. What is your process for drawing cocktail inspiration?
This is actually something I pulled from my acting classes in college: “the observational prowl”. Its heightened sense of awareness of the things around you through all of your senses. Commonly I draw my flavors from dishes that I’ve tasted at some of the best restaurants or from childhood delicacies like waffle crisp or PB&J; but I can also find inspiration from a song, a place I’ve been, something a guest says in passing, even just a feeling. That’s what so fun about the creative process in cocktails, the inspiration can come from anywhere. Just make sure you have a notebook to write it down!
3. Who do you look up to as a mentor (someone you have worked directly with) in this industry? What have you learned from them?
I look up to so many folks in the industry, it’s hard to choose. I’m always digging on the internet and reading about menus, bartenders and their bars. But there are three that really stick out to me. Julian Cox & Josh Goldman for giving me a chance 2 years ago. I was a super green bartender who knew absolutely nothing about cocktails and those guys gave me the most solid foundation to stand on and grow. Dave Kupchinsky really helped in the elevating of the quality of my drinks. Dave is super meticulous in R&D, not settling on a final spec without trying every possible permutation of the cocktail. We must have made over 50 different Negronis before we settled on what gin and vermouth combination for Eveleigh‘s house negroni. He never settles and thats important. Dushan Zaric for teaching me the other aspects of being a great bartender that have nothing to do with what you’re putting in the glass – the idea of being a sage, a rockstar, and a humble host. His philosophy lives outside of the bar as much as it is an innate part of my preparation and service.
4. Who’s cocktail program do you admire locally, nationally, or globally? Include one bar you dream of visiting.
I get a huge nerd boner from Trick Dog. Scott Baird & Josh Harris have one of the single greatest bar families I think I’ve ever seen. Even if you took away their delicious cocktails & ingenious menus, you would still have a bar family that is completely ride or die. It’s very rare to see a complete and contagious culture around a bar/group of bars. They embody everything that I think is right with the industry, from overall hospitality to cocktail creativity. I need to drink that Kool-Aid one day.
5. When you are looking to go out for a great drink: What is the drink? Where do you go? and who is making it?
I usually drink Mount Gay XO at La Descarga, paired with a delicious La Gloria Cubana cigar. That’s really all I need in life. A good chair, a nice rum, and a delicious cigar. There’s really nothing more relaxing to me.
6. What is unique about Harlowe, and what is it bringing to the very strong LA cocktail game?
With Harlowe it was my goal to push the boundaries of creative cocktails done at a high volume. I wanted to show the average drinking customer two things. One: craft cocktails do not need to take a long time to make, and two: that a batched cocktail doesn’t mean that there is any less thought or effort put into it than a 5 or 6 step ingredient one. We’ve spent countless hours calculating the exact dilution rates of all of our cocktails, even figuring out how much a single dash of bitters weighs! Our draught and bottled (cocktail) selections really help diminish wait times on cocktails, allowing our guests to quench their thirst with a quality cocktail that they don’t have to wait extra time for.
7. I’m looking for something citrus forward from your cocktail list, what are you recommending?
Citrus and refreshing, I’m telling you to get the Cheeky Devil – Cherrywood Smoked Rum, with fresh lemon, and pineapple, with a touch of honey and Cherry Herring. Refreshing, tiki, and slightly smokey.
8. I’m looking for something spirit forward and aromatic from your cocktail list, what are you recommending?
For Aromatic – I’m selling you Playoff Beard, baby. A manhattan variation with a combination of whiskeys – Buffalo Trace, Old Potrero, & Bowmore 12 yr with Cocchi Torino sweet vermouth & Cherry Heering tastes like a brand new catcher’s mit or that $5,000 handbag from your grandmother’s attic, whichever you prefer.
9. I’m looking for something I’ve never seen before, or something that you do the best. What are you recommending?
I think our Barrio Sour is pretty unique. It’s a play off a cocktail that you rarely see in LA, a New York Sour. Instead of whiskey, we have tequila & mezcal, with fresh lemon, demerara sugar, and a float of a Napa Cab spiced with cinnamon, clove, and fresh strawberry. The combination of winter flavor, a little smoke & fruit, and texture from the egg white truly makes it a unique cocktail experience.
10. In 5 years, what do you hope to accomplish?
In five years, I hope to have my hands in various honeypots. I watch a lot of Shark Tank, so I’m really interested in pursuing more entrepreneurial aspects outside of the bar. I want to consult, I want to represent a brand, I want to have a bar to call my own. Honestly, I really want to do everything!!! But truthfully, I really hope to stay flexible and passionate since this industry is a very taxing one. There’s a lot of clawing, kicking, and screaming – all in the name of hard work that can certainly take a lot out of you. I hope in five years I come into work with the same enthusiasm I have now, regardless of what I’m doing.
11. If you could ask similar questions to another bartender in So Cal, who would it be?
Go talk to Ben Scott & Zach Patterson – they’re funny guys & easy on the eyes.