Ever since Fred and Jennifer Unger breathed life into the quietly crumbling Hermosa Inn in 1992, the property has been beloved for many reasons, including its '30s-era architecture, rich history, splendid dining patio, and modern American food.
Now it's poised to be the city's number-one destination for cocktail culturists, as well, a cutting-edge watering hole meant to rival Sanctuary's Jade Bar in its heyday. Why? Because having a bona fide cocktail program and a mixologist to create and maintain it is every bit as important, these days, as having a great wine program with a sommelier to back it up.
The guy who's been hired to make it all happen is bartender extraordinaire Travis Nass, recognized all over town for his quirky handlebar mustache and bowler hat.
Ironically, Nass got the job with a little help from a friend, namely Jason Asher -- currently the corporate mixologist for spirits distributor Young's Market Company, previously the hot shot mixologist who made the cover of GQ Magazine for his innovative work at Jade Bar.
Here's how it played out:
The Hermosa wanted to hire Asher to create a cocktail program for them, but he told them what they really needed was someone to execute everything perfectly day in and day out. He recommended Nass.
Nass began his new Hermosa gig by cleaning house, getting rid of spirits he believes a high-caliber property shouldn't sell and re-stocking the back bar with premium spirits like Chartreuse products and boutique gins, including ultra-pricy Nolet's Reserve -- which Nass says is carried by only three bars in the state.
He's contemplating creating a reserve cocktail list using such incredibly high-end spirits that single cocktails could run $100 or more.
In the meantime, he and his talented new crew -- Julie Hillenbrand (who also tends bar at J&G Steakhouse) and Alexa Bowler (Cuoco Pazzo) -- have put together a much more down-to-earth cocktail menu for Lon's (the resort's signature restaurant), focusing on the classics, some of which are downright obscure. The list will include the Buck & Breck (San Francisco, 1856), the Jack Rose (New York, 1913) and the Pendennis Club (Kentucky, 1938) as well as a few of Nass' own creations, including the Mesquite Sour and Smoked Tea Shandy.
Nass -- who describes his style as simple, classically influenced, and seasonally driven -- also is planning a selection of gin and champagne drinks for Sunday brunch, poolside beverages with a desert-tiki theme, and an esoteric menu of Arizona-inspired cocktails for the Last Drop, the cozy lounge that fronts Lon's.
Although this modest fellow rejects the "mixologist" label (preferring to be called a "spirit guide" instead), he certainly plays the part, making his own liqueurs, beverages, and garnishes, including Irish Coffee, Amaretto, crème de menthe, tonic, brandied cherries and cocktail onions.
His plans are ambitious. Every Monday at the Last Drop Bar, he'll craft a brand new cocktail ($6) for Monday Mixology (imagine, if you can, a Duck a l'Orange Tequila Old-Fashioned), then he'll turn around and dream up an original (and ever-changing) Weekender Punch for Thursdays and Fridays.
In his spare time, he hopes to play around with non-alcoholic versions of classic cocktails containing only alcohol. Mixology, indeed! And maybe a bit of alchemy, too!