Some people are born to cocktails; some have cocktails thrust upon them when they’re a 17-year-old hostess, and the lone bartender at their restaurant calls out, and their boss throws them behind the stick.
In a town outside of San Antonio, Kristen Schaefer got pressed into service despite perfectly reasonable protestations like, “I don’t know how to tend bar” and “My job is as a hostess.”
Her boss reassured her: “This is Texas. Everyone only orders Bud Light or shots of Jack Daniels.”
First order up? An Old-Fashioned.
“I, deer in headlights, am like, “What is that?’” Schaefer said. “I run back to the kitchen, and I look at my boss like, ‘Hey, what happened to Bud Lights and Jack Daniels? What’s an Old-Fashioned?’
“He went into the back; he didn’t say a word. He literally threw at me the little black book of bartending and said, ‘Figure it out.’
“I looked in it, and I don’t know what a muddle is, but I’ll figure that out. It was at that moment I realized that I never wanted to feel dumb again. I just started reading about it. I started learning everything I could learn.”
Learn she did. After working with hospitality consultant Tobin Ellis on a restaurant opening in Poughkeepsie, New York, the Bar Magic traveling speakeasy owner brought her to Las Vegas to help open Luxor’s Tacos & Tequila in 2009. That same year, Schaefer helped launch Rhumbar at The Mirage. Then, in 2010, she moved on to become one of the three property mixologists at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, where she also served as general manager of Bond.
Bond allowed her to crystallize one aspect of her approach to what makes a good drink, but five years later, Schaefer left The Cosmo to become the brand ambassador for Absolut Elyx.
“I hate stuffy mixologists,” she said. “I think they’re boring and annoying. I don’t care if you can tell me everything about every single whisky behind the bar. I can do the same thing. I just want to have fun.
“(At) Bond, when we were doing that cocktail menu, I wanted to take all the cocktails that mixologists make fun of, and I wanted to put them on the Bond menu. I wanted a Sex on the Beach, a kamikaze, chocolate martini, apple martini. We put every one of those drinks on the menu, but we did them really well.”
Before representing Elyx, Schaefer’s first love was rum — and her mojito perfectionism that specifies the exact cut of a lime before muddling should prove it — but adapting to vodka hasn’t slowed her down.
With three easy do-it-yourself tipples (see sidebar), you can spruce up your next cocktail party with something a bit off the beaten path.
In The Continental, Pavan Liqueur de France adds a touch of grape and a hint of citrus to a cocktail that are exceptionally clean and crisp. The degree to which you can drink this like water is directly proportional to the trouble you can get into on a warm spring day.
Ruby Dancing is a grapefruit julep that’s tart and bright. Like any good julep, you get a hearty whiff of mint as you drink, which grounds the big grapefruit pop that hits on the first sip. If sweet whiskey is too much for you on Kentucky Derby Day, this one can stand in as a palate-cleansing alternative.
Down the Rabbit Hole, a punch offering, mixes things way up with carrot juice. Along with a ginger-infused honey, there’s an earthiness here that’s deftly balanced by citrus. The cinnamon adds a baked-goods kick that we couldn’t help but equate to carrot cake (helpless to the power of suggestion as we are). Are we sure we don’t want to try a cream-cheese-frosting rim?