A Cocktail Homecoming

by Francine Cohen

Having known Lindsay Nader since her days manning the door at PDT (www.pdtnyc.com) in NYC, we can attest that this California native is a font of graciousness and a welcoming presence for guests in search of a cocktail. 

Now that Nader's behind the bar at Harvard and Stone in Los Angeles, folks in Tinsel Town are in for the same treat those crossing PDT's threshold encountered at the door and later, behind the bar.

Nader's return to California was as strategically planned as a well thought out cocktail menu; she's back to simultaneously mix great drinks and continue pursuing her acting career. 

Unlike many actors who step behind a bar while they are waiting for their big break yet can't be counted on to convincingly play the role of enthusiastic drink maker, Nader has it covered.  She's worked with and for some of the best in the hospitality business and has learned loads about great food, drinks and customer service.  All while honing her palate and expanding her base of knowledge along the way.

Lucky for you she'll be sharing her insights here every other Monday.  So tune in.  And maybe one night, as you're watching the Tony's or the Oscars, you’ll be able to say, "Hey, I know her.  She made me an amazing Negroni.  And pours a mean shot of whiskey."

ShakeStir: You’re an LA native yet you graduated high school in Colorado.  Explain, please.

Lindsay: I was an army brat growing up, without actually being an army brat. My mom and I left L.A. when I was 5 and moved to Northern California. That move was followed by many more all over the United States. I spent my middle school and high school years in Boulder, Colorado, snowboarding and riding horses competitively. 16 year old Lindsay was the picture of health.

ShakeStir: Since moving back to LA you’ve collaborated with Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook of Animal Restaurant, designing a classic drink program for the opening of their second endeavor, Son Of A Gun.  Tell us about your approach to the menu for such a highly anticipated spot with owners who already have great name recognition for their other restaurant.

Lindsay: The goal was to create a classic cocktail program in a minimally outfitted, small bar, that wouldn’t deter from Jon and Vinny’s food. The spin was we took some rusty classics and mixed them in with the popular classics. There were specific requests made by Jon, Vinny and management to incorporate some guilty pleasures as well, a hand shaken Pina Colada and Milk Punch, for example. I wanted to give customers a little more wiggle room with the addition of a couple nouveau classics, a Manhattan Variation by Audrey Saunders and a Prescription Julep by David Wondrich.

ShakeStir: You served as the Deputy Cocktail Editor for Food & Wine Magazine’s 2011 Cocktail Book.  How different was it recipe testing for the book versus recipe creation for a bar?

Lindsay: Very different. I was at PDT simultaneously, where I was encouraged to think outside the box, well, outside the triangle, circle and diamond as well. Ha. PDT has a reputation and clientele that appreciate esoteric drinks, but when you are testing recipes that are going to be printed, then read by people all over the country, you have to shift gears towards a broader market. This doesn’t dictate that the drinks will not be complex and progressive, but that they need to reflect what is going on in the best bars in the country AND be able to be recreated in the home.

ShakeStir: What is it that people don’t know about you aside from possibly not knowing you were in an episode of “Law & Order: SVU?”

Lindsay: I don’t like walnuts and the worst date I ever went on was with Jeff Goldblum.

ShakeStir:  For www.out.com video segment produced with Jason Rowan of www.emburycocktails.com, you created a cocktail that was inspired by a refreshing non-alcoholic drink you picked up at the juice bar Liquiteria.  What else inspires you/where do you draw your inspiration?

Lindsay: People inspire me. I like getting to know what people like or are craving. There are so many bartenders who get off on making drinks for themselves and their friends that they forget who matters most; the guy sitting in front of you at your bar.

Food inspires me. I’m a pretty curious eater and am often interested by what chefs are doing. I’m a lousy cook myself. Thank goodness I can make a decent drink!

ShakeStir: What do you think the difference is between East Coast and West Coast bartending styles?

Lindsay: I can only speak for New York and L.A. and it’s a bit like East Coast and West Coast Rap; Biggie and 2 Pac. There’s a difference in flow and technique; New York is more Old School, The Milk & Honeys and Pegu Clubs have set a strong example with many offshoots. There’s a lot of circulation of recipe specs and variations on those specs and everyone is racing to keep up with each other. That being said, New York is a standard that demands respect.

Los Angeles is more loose, the food scene didn’t take off here until much later, with drinks to follow. It’s less competitive and anything goes. I think the cocktail culture reflects the more “chill” attitude that most people attribute to the west coast. There are a lot of differences in style. In L.A. not every drink has to make your face melt because it has Suze and Szechuan Buzz Buttons in it. People appreciate a tasty cocktail at a reasonable price.

I don’t believe that cross pollination can be successful in New York and L.A. unless time is spent in both markets. I’ve seen O.G. New York bartenders come to L.A. with a concept and it falls on its face because they haven’t been here long enough to find the holes for demand. And vice versa; if you are opening a venue in New York you better be up on your street knowledge because they move fast and they tote big guns.

ShakeStir:  How did you get into bartending in the first place?

Lindsay: I was finishing up an independent film and needed some extra cash. I was introduced to Jim at PDT and landed the infamous position of Door Girl. I loved it. Once I saw what the bartenders were putting out, I was hooked. I expressed interest to learn and made a commitment to training, slowly working my way through cocktail waitressing up to the bar.

ShakeStir: If you had an apprentice under your wing what would be the ten “do’s and don’ts” you’d share with them about the business?

Lindsay:

  1. Be humble. Nobody likes a narcissist.
  2. Keep dirty rags out of the sight of customers.
  3. Strive to build a sense of community with the people you work with.
  4. Don’t drink and drive.
  5. Set an example for those who will eventually learn from you.
  6. Don’t do things for money.
  7. Experience life outside of the Industry.
  8. Take care of yourself.
  9. Make drinks with love.
  10. Don’t pick up glasses by putting your fingers inside them.

ShakeStir: Without getting all bra-burning feminist on us, tell us what you think womens’ role is in the spirits industry?  Do you feel you really need to set yourself apart based on your chromosomes and body parts or can you just go and do a great job and oh, by the way, be a woman?

Lindsay: I can’t speak for all the ladies in the game. I’m a competitive, only child who grew up a tomboy and I often found myself, in the early stages of learning, feeling like I needed to prove myself and keep up with the guys. Now that I’m more comfortable, I just do me and know that it has its impact. I don’t need to shake as hard or drink as much as the dudes. I stopped caring about that, and my femininity began to come out in my drinks.

ShakeStir: Are there any drinks you just can’t stand to make?  Anything you don’t like to drink?

Lindsay: I’ll be perfectly honest; my heart does sink when asked to make a Ramos Gin Fizz at 1:45 am on a Saturday, but I’ll do it.

ShakeStir: If you went out to dinner six nights in a row do you think you’d order something different every time or would it always be (for example) fish, steak, chicken, etc.?

Lindsay: I like to mix it up and taste as many different things as I can. I also like to get an impression of what’s going on inside a chef’s head and order a bunch of dishes.

ShakeStir: What will you be writing about on www.shakestir.com?

Lindsay: A lot of different things! I have experiences in life that are relatable to the beverage industry that I’d like to explore in writing, as well as more East Coast/West Coast topics. And of course I do want to represent the fairer half of the species and hold it down for the ladies.

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