Steve Calabro has bounced around the world honing his bartending craft, but he always manages to come back to Los Angeles. Right now he’s slinging drinks at Red O, the Rick Bayless-affiliated restaurant that serves an upscale take on Mexican classics. (And yes, presenting your cocktails in a tryout session with a world-famous chef is indeed terrifying.) He shared with us the silliest drink he’s ever sold, what he’s got on tap for Cinco de Mayo weekend, and the whole deal with the bouncers at Red O.
Were you always a phenom with cocktails?
At first, I was doing nothing but making mistakes. Which is great, because now I know the wrong answers. But then people started coming back. I had repeat customers, people who came just for my drinks.
You’ve worked at bars all over the U.S., New Zealand, Czech Republic … besides being fun, has that helped with your bartending education?
Everywhere you go, people have different palates. It’s great to learn what people want. There are two kinds of bartenders: those kids who just want to party, and people who really care what their customers like. When I give someone a drink, I watch their reaction.
Can you tell what someone’s going to order before they open their mouth?
The worst thing I can do is judge my customers. I’ve had guys who look like they just stepped off a bus who’ve thrown down American Express black cards. You can’t judge customers at all by how they look; You don’t know what they’re going to drink.
Do you ever have to make a drink you don’t want to?
One person ordered margaritas for the table with the most expensive tequila we have. Those margaritas were $150 each. That order’s all about ego. But if they want it, I’ll happily give it to them. Well, within reason. I don’t want to serve someone six drinks. Alcohol kills if you don’t respect it.
More here….(I’m still not convinced about the bouncers.)