Table 20’s 2nd Annual LA’s Best Bartender Contest: Interview with Judge Marcos Tello

The Minty recently caught up with busy bartender Marcos Tello via email about the 2nd Annual LA’s Best Bartender contest. Marcos Tello is one of the judges along with last year’s winner Matthew Biancaniello of Library Bar, “King Cocktail” Dale DeGroff, LA Times nightlife and food writer Jessica Gelt, Pastry Chef Johnny Iuzzini and restauranteur Brica Lopez of Guelaguetza Restaurant.

Marcos has worked at the Edison, Malo, Seven Grand and is currently bartending at the Varnish. Along with partner Aidan Demarest, he created the cocktail program for 1886 Bar at the Raymond. He currently is president of the Los Angeles Chapter of the USBG and is the founder of the Sporting Life, which hosts monthly meetings for bartenders and enthusiasts. I know Marcos from two very successful punch crawls with Bols Genever where he serves as a brand ambassador.

The Minty: Marcos, were you involved with last year’s Table 20 LA Best Bartender contest? What made you decide to judge this year? How do you feel about judging alongside well-respected cocktailians Dale DeGroff and Matthew Biancaniello, last year’s winner?

Marcos Tello: No, I was not. I am representing the Los Angeles USBG in judging this year and thought that we (LA USBG) should definitely be involved if there is a “Best Bartender” to identify. I am honored to be in such great company as Dale and Matthew….They are truly legends!

TM: You’re known for creating several cocktail programs around town. What’s the process? Do you try to create original cocktails or put your spin on classics? Or both?

MT: First things first, I try to get a sense of the “soul” of the bar and its story. I think that there should be continuity from kitchen to bar to design, it should all flow together…..If I get in early enough, I try to meet with the designer to give my input on the construction of the bar. I really feel that bars need to work with what the program is trying to accomplish behind it. Then comes the cocktails in which I like to vary it up with both original cocktails and spins on classics. All drinks being in line with the bar’s style of course.

TM: What do you look for when you hire bartenders?  What are three drinks every bartender should know?

MT: I look for passion, charisma, and willingness to work hard. Three drinks every bartender should know are the Manhattan, Old-Fashioned, and Daiquiri.

TM: More and more cocktail programs feature farm to glass cocktails, do you see this trend growing? Should bartenders chase down fresh ingredients alongside chefs?

MT: I do see this as a growing trend. I think everyone should definitely use fresh ingredients when making cocktails but “seasonal” ingredients just seem to drink better when appropriate.

TM: How do you learn about new cocktail trends-  getting together with other bartenders, magazines, internet, blogs, etc? What are some trends nationally and internationally?

MT: I usually subscribe to a few publications that let me know innovations that bartenders have come up with. Since the cocktail community is so small, chances are that I know the bartender, so I usually drop them a line or visit their bar to learn more if I’m interested. A couple trends that are hot right are “Tiki” and “Aging” cocktails, both of which I’ve played with and are on my current list at 1886.

TM: What are some of your favorite spirits to work with? And what cocktails are you working on now?

MT: Some of my favorite spirits to work with are Tequila and Rum. Since it’s summer and I’m doing a monthly “tiki” night with Jason Schiffer and Matt Robold at 320 Main, I’m very much into “Tiki” drinks right now.

TM: Do you have a favorite bar outside of your own? What do you like to drink?

MT: That’s tough since 1886 is walking distance from my house but if I had to pick one right now, I like going to Harvard and Stone for their R&D nights. They’re fun and really well done so I guess I’m trying whatever is on the menu at the time. Otherwise, I’m relaxing and having whatever they wanna serve me at 320 Main in Seal Beach…My lil brother works there and the rest of the staff is like family to me too!

TM: You’ve said you’re committed to launching and sustaining “cocktail culture” in LA- do you think we should have a “cocktail week” like San Francisco or Portland, Oregon? Or something like New York’s Manhattan Cocktail Classic? Could we even dream of something like Tales of the Cocktail (New Orleans) in LA?

MT: Yes but it must be done right. It must have be well organized, united, and concentrated. LA is so spread out that it could become diluted really quickly. I’ve actually had requests for this in the past but it’s definitely a lot bigger undertaking than people understand.

TM: Do you have any advice for the bartenders you’ll be judging in Table 20’s 2nd Annual Best LA Bartender competition?

MT: Be yourself, know your classics as well as your signature cocktails, and making me a Negroni (my favorite drink) never hurts!

You have another 3 weeks left to vote and  nominate your favorite LA bartenders. After that, 5 finalists will be selected for the competition with Karlsson’s Gold Vodka on October 9 at Elevate Lounge.

See you at the competition!

**photo courtesy of Marcos Tello and Table 20