Imagine a 3,000-mile bartending tour across the United States that favors Riverside over Los Angeles, stops in Santa Fe instead of Austin, and chooses Jackson, Boise, and Salt Lake City over Seattle, New Orleans, and the Big Apple.
Imagine it’s thrown by reputable cocktail personality and barman Erick Castro of San Diego’s Polite Provisions, which was named 2014’s Best American High Volume Cocktail Bar.
You may think we’re getting existential here — but this thing really exists. It's called the Bartender at Large tour.
"Along the way, we will be documenting the craft cocktail scene in places that are too often overlooked,” explains the tour website. "We are going to these places to not only shine a spotlight on the bartenders there, but also to talk to them about their thoughts and their careers behind the bar."
Castro will be stopping to do a one-night-only cocktail menu at newly opened Okra on Tuesday, September 29. The restaurant and bar are open regular hours all day, but the special menu action begins at 6 and goes until 10 p.m. — though menu items will last only as long as stock does. All six cocktails on the special menu will be available for $7 a pop and a Black Manhattan-like swirl of Okra’s house-blend Four Roses bourbon and Montenegro amaro will be available for the downright scandalous price of $3.
“The goal is to show off what it’s like to bartender in Phoenix,” says Okra head bartender Andrew Calisterio, who says he used to go watch Castro make drinks when they both lived and worked in Sacramento.
The food, according to Okra co-owner Micah Olson, will be Southern-inspired and showcase Arizona. The full daily menu will be available, too.
“And I’ve heard rumors of Frito pie,” Olson says, with a grin.
There’s a loose theme for the evening: “native” ingredients are involved. Purple corn makes an appearance, dates too — it’s date season after all, and even Cartel Coffee Lab's smooth cold brew gets billed.
So if you want a Maize Runner — this is Okra bartender Jake Foster’s cocktail — with purple corn Tito’s Vodka shaken with sherry, egg white and lime, with a head of froth so thick you’d mistake it for the much lengthier shaking efforts that result in a Ramos Gin Fizz, it’ll be at Bartenders at Large.
So will Calisterio’s cocktail — he’s fresh off a 2015 Best Bartender Award, mind you — Cold Brewed Dude, a triumvirate of pineapple, coffee, and tequila. He’ll stir it, but a couple sips in and you’ll be shaking.
Castro’s seasonally appropriate date creation involves a date-infused Hamilton Demerara rum, cream, and brown sugar — a dessert cocktail if we’ve ever seen one.
On Wednesday, September 30, Castro will continue on to Tucson to the nostalgia-filled Tough Luck Club, paying tribute to the '80s by making “some of the top cocktails from that era using only the best ingredients available.”
You can follow Okra's Bartender at Large event at @Okra_AZ (Twitter and Instagram) and the tour at @BartenderAtLarge (Twitter and Instagram).