IT’S NO SECRET that service-industry workers—bartenders, servers, cooks and the like—have been some of the hardest hit financially as a result of COVID-19. Under the March 19 statewide mandate that food-service establishments close their dining rooms and move to delivery and to-go service only, many restaurants were forced to lay off employees, cut staff hours or close altogether. So in an effort to provide extra support to his bar staff at Big Orange Midtown in Little Rock, bar manager Luiggi Uzcategui gave up his bartending shifts so his fellow bartenders could work more hours.
(It’s also worth mentioning that Yellow Rocket Concepts, the restaurant group behind Big Orange, Local Lime, Lost 40 Brewing, ZaZa and Heights Taco & Tamale, has committed to keeping its staff employed, working and paid through the crisis—even if it bankrupts the company—according to co-owner John Beachboard.)
So Luiggi found himself self-isolating at home with his girlfriend, a fully stocked bar and no one but the two of them to make drinks for. He missed his regulars, and he missed the culture of working behind the bar. “My favorite part about being a bartender was how I got to educate people on the techniques and the finesse of everything we did behind the bar,” Luiggi says. “There’s a lot of history, a lot of technique, a lot of science behind it, and I love talking about that stuff. So I needed an outlet for that in a way.”
Luiggi decided if his bar regulars weren’t able to come to him, he’d have to go to them. … Well, at least virtually. So he created a new Instagram account, the aptly named @bartender_in_quarantine, and started posting cocktail recipes and bar tips.
“What I wanted to do was provide a sort of comic relief and, at the same time, instructions on what to do with some things you may have lying around at home,” Luiggi says.
When it comes to the recipes, Luiggi has been sticking to fairly simple—but well crafted—cocktails. “The humble Daiquiri,” reads an early post. “A great example of beauty in simplicity, and yet, it can be so nuanced.” The recipe itself calls for only three ingredients: 2 ounces rum, 1 ounce lime juice and 1 ounce simple syrup.
And what, you might be asking, is simple syrup? Having anticipated the question from some of the more novice mixologists, Luiggi had provided instructions for the sugar-water mixture in the previous post. In a nod to the more intermediate students, Luiggi also uses his account to post tips about homemade bitters or infused spirits—but his back-to-basics approach always makes for instruction that’s accessible and results that are attainable.
“I follow a lot of other bartending accounts that post these really intricate cocktails that are really, really well put together, and I’m sure they’re great, but the layperson doesn’t have 17 different types of bitters or 19 different types of Amaro lying around at home,” Luiggi explains. “I wanted to make stuff that other people could make with some pretty basic ingredients and just go from there.”
But bartending isn’t just about slinging drinks, as Luiggi will tell you. Bartenders—good bartenders, anyway—aim to make their patrons feel welcome. Bartenders provide an open ear and even a form of entertainment. So Luiggi always invites his followers to direct-message him with any questions they might have, and he makes sure to inject a good dose of humor into his posts as well.
“Garnish? In THIS economy?” Luiggi jokes in a post featuring a recipe for the classic Old Fashioned. “Shake it, strain it, and put it in your favorite coupe (or solo cup, no one’s watching),” instructs another post for the gin-honey-lime cocktail called The Business. But one of the most amusing aspects of Luiggi’s account is his consistent cheeky attire: a red flannel bathrobe. But even that bit has a rationale behind it.
“You have a uniform at work, right?” Luiggi says. “You have a certain way you look, and I wanted to give out a sort of relaxed atmosphere. That’s why I always wear the bathrobe in every picture. Even when I don’t take a picture of myself, I’m always wearing that bathrobe because I feel like it goes back to the zen state of bartending and being able to concentrate, getting in a certain mindset. And you have to have a sort of uniform for that.”
Hey, anything we can do without putting on pants works for us. Adding booze to the mixture is just a bonus. And thanks to Luiggi, while we’re all self-isolating and social-distancing, at least we’ll be able to drink better while we do it.
A Variation on a Whiskey Smash from Luiggi Uzcategui
3 lemon wedges
4-5 large mint leaves
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) whiskey (Note: Bourbon works best.)
3/4 ounce (1 1/2 tablespoons) homemade tangerine triple sec (See recipe at right.)
1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) simple syrup
Muddle the lemon in a tall glass. Add the mint leaves, whiskey, simple syrup and triple sec, and shake over ice and strain. (Note: If you don’t have triple sec—and don’t want to go through the hassle of making your own—you can make up for it by increasing the whiskey to 2 ounces and adding an extra 1/4 ounce of simple syrup.)
Serve on the rocks, and garnish with a mint sprig.
Tangerine Triple Sec
Peels from 3 tangerines
8 ounces vodka (or brandy, if you like to live dangerously)
5 tablespoons of sugar
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with some parchment paper, and place the tangerines’ peely bits in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Remove, and let ’em cool before placing them in a mason jar. Add the vodka. Freeze it for two hours or so. Remove from the freezer, and let it sit at room temp for at least 24 hours, but the mixture will stay fresh for up to a month. Strain out the peely bits, and add the sugar. Stir the sugar until it dissolves.
Follow Luiggi at @bartender_in_quarantine on Instagram for more cocktail recipes like this variation on a Whiskey Smash.