THE INTERVIEW: Rainlove Lampariello (Mixologist at StirRed)
Enter StirRed, the downstairs lounge owned by the upstairs restaurant Rouge Tomate, and you have two starkly different spaces. Where Rouge Tomate transports you to a place where modern American cuisine reigns supreme with environmental, minimalist and sleek décor themes, StirRed offers up a Pre-Prohibition themed lounge where the history and art of the drink is well-preserved by resident mixologist Rainlove Lampariello. I had the chance to talk to Rainlove about that an much more.
How did you become a mixologist and how long have you been doing it?
The word “Mixologist” is a late comer in the world of cocktails and bars. Today’s definition of “Mixologist” is really what bartenders were pre-prohibition and during that prohibition era. A bartender was a respected trade and craft. One would have to apprentice and have years of experience before they could become a bartender. This has changed over time and now a bartender with that type of experienced is called a “Mixologist.” I started as a bar-back when I was 16 on the weekends. I bartended my way through College. At a certain point I started to actually study the history and decided to try and bring back the glory days of great bartenders and even better drinks.
What separates a mixologist from a bartender?
A mixologist for me makes their own mixers. They only work with base spirits like gin, vodka, whiskey and the rest is crafted by the bar. They would have to be well versed in every single item the bar is serving. They need to understand all spirits, liquors, liqueurs, how they are made and what goes well with them. In short they should know more about beverages than anyone else in the restaurant.
As a mixologist, have you developed a clear way to create great mixed cocktails or is it just by constant experimenting that you create a drink like the Dark and Stormy (Gosling’s Black Seal Rum and Ginger Beer) or the Sazerac (Rye Whiskey, Peychauds Bitters, and Absinthe)?
I have developed a clear way to create drinks. The two drinks you asked me about are actually very old cocktails, especially the Sazerac, which was one of the first in America. The Dark and Stormy is also very old. I try to do 2 things. First if it is a classic cocktail, I will try and make the different ingredients in-house. Ginger beer is easy to buy, but we make our own at Rouge Tomate. That’s what makes it special. For the classics, I basically stay true to the recipe, and at the same time make everything fresh. We make our own Brandy, brandy cherries, almond milk, etc. In addition to this, when I build a cocktail I think of the foundation first. Structure is what makes a great drink; you can’t have a sturdy structure without a good foundation. Most drinks all have the same foundation: Base spirit, acid and sweet. This is pretty much the base for all drinks; from here I build slowly adding seasonal ingredients as they arrive in the market.
What spirits do you like to work with the most?
My favorite spirit to work with is Gin. It has flavor and really mixes well with everything, yet to tell the truth I like them all! Each one brings a different element.
Which drinks are the hardest to make?
I think the hardest drink to make is a Margarita. Most of time it is too sweet, or too tart. Restaurants have the hardest time keeping this drink consistent. Bars that make the best drink still constantly screw this one up.
Can you share the recipe of your favorite drink to make with our readers?
One of my favorite drinks to make is a spin on a Margarita.
2 ½ oz silver tequila
½ oz triple sec
½ oz lime juice (items in red are my sour mix)
½ oz lemon juice
½ oz egg whites
½ oz agave syrup
¼ oz fresh ginger
1 ½ oz watermelon juice
You’re going to be giving cocktail classes in May and June, what can participants expect to learn?
I am in the middle of the cocktail classes now. People will learn the starting point for building a drink, the foundation for all drinks, and then how to think outside the box with adding ingredients. They will get the starting point for all drinks and the correct way to build from there.
The theme at StirRed is pre-prohibition. Why did you design your drink menu after that era?
Pre-prohibition and during prohibition was the time that the great cocktails were created, when bartending was a trade. It is where our bar history started. I wanted to tap into that style of craftsmanship.
Every person I know who worked in a bar has overheard or been told a crazy story from a patron. Do you have any that come to mind?
An art dealer came into Sign of the Dove with 4 of the biggest bouncers I have ever seen in my life. The guy was a regular, and always tipped amazingly. This was 15 or so years ago. The guy hands me 2 paper shopping bags and asks me to hold them behind the bar. When I go to put them down I sneak a look in the bags. THEY WERE FULL WITH STACKS OF 100 DOLLAR BILLS. STACKS!!!! It was easily over a million dollars in cold hard cash. Imagine the thoughts that went through my head, I was all of 24 at the time. He tipped me $500 that night, yet all I could think of was how I could and should have been on some beach across the globe.