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Ever wonder who's peer-recognized as the best bartender in Sacramento? Who makes the cocktails that scintillate the palate, dazzle the mind and always keep you guessing? Go no farther than 19th Street: we have a local treasure right here.
For the second installment on the All-Star Bartender Series, I'm speaking of Chris Tucker. Tucker has been a Northern California local for much of his life, and after working in San Francisco for a period of time, and learning a great deal about his craft, he decided there was something special in Sacramento worth coming back for. So upon returning, Tucker has been working with L Wine Lounge and moonlighting at Shady Lady Saloon ever since.
More than any other bartender I've had the privilege to drink with, Tucker can create concoctions that are constantly surprising the palette with the seasonal menus he creates for L Wine Lounge, but even with a jaded drinker like me, he constantly surprises. He's one of the only bartenders/mixologists who I can go to, name an alcohol or a style of alcohols, name a flavor characteristic (sweet, salty, bitter, savory) and have him come back with incredible flavors that don't even have a name, or a random drink he recalled from the 1950s that fell out of favor and is exactly what I described.
Innovative to the last, Tucker is currently showcasing his own take on the 12 days of Christmas with the 12 Days of Toddies. One such Toddy included Benedictine, apricot liqueur, cognac, honey, star anise, lemon peel, orange and grated cinnamon. The lemon peel is flamed with a match to bring out the essence, and the cinnamon is freshly grated right in front of you! This is the kind of attention he pays to his drinks, each one a work of art.
Now don't get me wrong, he may act like a magician, but he's still human – so if you're looking to stump him, it'll be hard, but doable. But unlike many of his trade, there is a genuine appreciation and excitement brought to every drink that the drinker can taste immediately. If I'm feeling creative, whimsical or in need of a really special concoction, it's Chris Tucker I'll hunt down every time.
The Sacramento Press: How did you get your start in bartending?
Chris Tucker: I got my start at America Live! way back in 1993. I'm a prime example of "the right place at the right time." (I) started as a door host, then was asked to train as bartender after two weeks at the door.
SP: What's your favorite drink/cocktail?
CT: The Manhattan. I prefer the Jerry Thomas recipe with bourbon instead of rye.
SP: To you, what's the difference between a mixologist and a bartender?
CT: To me, the term mixologist refers to those focused on the art of drink creation. Possessing knowledge of classic cocktails, base spirits, liqueurs, wines, beers and mixers of all types and combining with proven bartending techniques to experiment and develop new cocktails.
Bartender refers to those charged with tending to the needs of the bar and the bar patron. The skill set, knowledge and level of service should be on par with the establishment and environment and, preferably, raising the standard and guest experience.
SP: What is the next big thing to watch for in drinking/cocktails/mixed drinks?
CT: I hope the trend of drinking quality over quantity continues and that more establishments incorporate seasonal, local and sustainable products on to their menus whenever possible, if not exclusively.
SP: What's your signature recipe cocktail?
CT: I don't think I have one, and I always avoid answering that question.
SP: What's the best way to get a bartender's attention?
CT: Patience. There is no need to get a good bartender's attention. The bartender should always be aware of new patrons, drink levels of current patrons and where each patron is in the drink order lineup. If you need to get the bartender's attention, you probably need to go to another bar.
SP: Where do you drink?
CT: Anywhere, and as often as possible.
Sadly, too little time and too many brothers and sisters in the industry to support.
Next up: Matt Nurge