Persistence and dedication pay off, even for a 28 year-old, award-winning bartender, whose first cocktails were so lousy, they kept being sent back for better replacements.
(This article was written for Vallarta Tribune, edition # 1165.)
“One of my biggest challenges in life is not knowing how or when to say ‘no,’” remarks bartender Dan Rodriguez about a personal trait that has helped him both overcome adversities and become one of Puerto Vallarta’s most creative professionals in his field. Like many Puerto Vallarta teenagers, he had to combine study—gastronomy, in his case—with work out of necessity. “I started at La Piazzetta on Olas Altas as a steward around 2005,” he recalls. “I was barely 14 years old.” Despite being soft-spoken, he quickly realized he had a knack of interacting with the restaurant’s guests. Owner Mimmo Lorusso took notice and quickly promoted him as a busboy. “I remember I didn’t speak any English at the time, and must confess that my command of the language could be better, even today!”
Dan continued polishing his people skills as a waiter, his only bartending-related concern being the cocktails he rushed from bar to tables. In fact, his introduction to bartending was both accidental and ill-fated. “I was working as a waiter at Las Palomas, the now-defunct restaurant on the Malecon,” he explains. “It was 2007 and they had hired this gal to oversee the bar, prepare cocktails and handle bottle inventory. But she was too short to reach for bottles in high shelves!” A tall guy, he was often called upon to reach for bottles when it was time to fix drinks or handle inventory at the end of the day.
While his initial awareness of the bar may have been amusing, his actual takeoff as a bartender when his immediate supervisor had to take a week-long leave of absence was far from it. In fact, it was disastrous. Since he was the closest assistant working at the bar, he had no choice but to take her place.
“I started fixing drinks and every single cocktail I prepared was sent back,” he recalls. “There was not a single drink that any of the clients found satisfactory. Not a single one!” This unfortunate watershed was pivotal for him, as it provided the necessary impetus to begin learning how to properly fix even the most basic of cocktails. “I didn’t know I would end up becoming a bartender. What I knew is that I didn’t want my drinks sent back because they were not satisfactory.”
Practice makes perfect. Soon enough, no drinks were returned.
When asked about how and when he realized he would eventually become a full-time bartender, he recalls the specific moment, which took place some two years later: “I was working at a brewery and was drinking a beer after a shift. As I read the ingredients on the label, I realized I didn’t even know what they were or how they affected the beer flavor.” It was then that he heard the calling from within.
He began formal bartending studies on his personal time. By 2013 he had become an active member of Mexico’s Bartender Association and eventually also a member of the Mexican Mixology Academy, where he finally had access to all the necessary resources to develop his own personal style. What does it take to excel?
“A mixologist must be able to command many different ingredients, from spirits to wine, to coffee and many more,” he explains. “And many people can mix ingredients at home to create or recreate a beverage. But not everyone gets to become a great bartender.”
Five years ago, he began working at Di Vino Dante on Basilio Badillo St., where he was quickly put in charge of the bar, training colleagues on how to do the work, fix cocktails, and keep a pristine and finely tuned house. Owner Gena Guarniere has been instrumental in furthering his professional development from day one. “Her support has always been unconditional, allowing me to grow limitlessly. One can never be thankful enough.”
For those looking for the ultimate cocktailing experience, Dan recommends three places:
- Alquimista Cocktail Room in Nuevo Vallarta, for a constantly trendsetting experience.
- Bar La Playa in Emiliano Zapata, for down-to-earth, no-frills cocktails.
- And, of course, Di Vino Dante. “It’s my own home! How could I possibly not recommend it?”
What would grandma recommend if you were ill? A tea! This innovative cocktail created by Dan Rodriguez is both a ritual and a celebration of grandmothers around the world and their ritual of curing everything with tea. So it’s not to be taken lightly. It features rum infused with fresh eucalyptus with ginger syrup, an infusion of camomille and peppermint, and a bit of lime juice. A small side of the camomille/peppermint infusion is presented and enjoyed first to cleanse your palate and prepare your taste buds to receive your ‘treatment.’
As you savor your cocktail, an eyedropper containing bitter lavender concentrate allows you to playfully interact with it, modifying its sweet flavor to personal taste at will!
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