The Mexican Evolution

by Lindsay Nader

Meet Luis Cruz, a native of Oaxaca, Mexico, or "The Land of Mezcal" as he refers to it. Luis has been living and working in Los Angeles for almost 12 years, splitting his time between bar backing and making drinks at The Abbey, a world famous, high volume gay bar/restaurant, and Harvard & Stone, a destination industrial-style bar with a focus on American craft distillates, loved dearly by L.A.'s hipster elite.

Luis hasn't returned to Oaxaca since coming to L.A. He made the move with his uncle, shares a home with his wife, and spends a lot of time with the majority of his family, all who live nearby.

In 2009, Luis and his brother Rigo Alberto serendipitously began what you might call their own cocktail catering service. Through friends in their community, the brothers were asked to make drinks for a party of 350 people. One thing led to another, as guests took notice of their skill and hospitality, and in no time, the brothers were being requested for more and more events. "I love my brother,” says Luis. "We always work together.”

Luis' many years spent bar backing at The Abby gave him a foundation of basic bar mechanics as well as the knowledge and execution of staple classic cocktails. Since the opening of Harvard & Stone, he has been trained by staff to make the complete cocktail menu and is adding new classics to his repertoire weekly.  He applies the skills learned at the two bars directly to his party service. "I'm always enjoying making cocktails, I love my job...it started out when family and friends needed Margaritas for their party. We can make better drinks and bring better bottles.”

Since its inception two years ago, the Cruz brothers business has grown to the point of offering tailor made packages to fit their client’s needs. Depending on price point menus may be created, samples may be tasted and product will be brought to the site upon request. Luis batches and shakes, while Rigo Alberto tray passes, answering questions about the drinks as he personally serves each guest. They pay attention to the details down to the garnish and make sure to set each drink apart, whether it's a pale blue cocktail for a baby boy's Baptism, or a fun and fancy drink for a Quinceañera.

Luis explained to me that L.A.'s Mexican Spanish speaking community has a growing interest in cocktails and embrace what he and his brother put in front of them. Luis is in a unique position as a medium between the two worlds he spends the most time in; he is a harbinger of good taste to a massive slice of Los Angeles' population.

Luis has admittedly been bit by the bug. He takes pride in the craft and knows there's no turning back. "When working in a bar, you cannot mix Tequila with red wine at home, you know it tastes bad,” he says. He can also spot a bullsh*tter from a mile away. "A lot of people say 'I am a bartender, hire me', but I see they have a beautiful body and nothing else. I see they are not a bartender, they don't make good drinks."

Luis appreciates his employment at Harvard & Stone for not only elevating his awareness of quality when it comes to cocktails, but for the sense of community created among the staff. "We are like family. I see these people five days a week." He favors a close knit and independent working environment over a large corporate one, where his experience has been less than favorable. "Big companies have stupid rules, don't do this, don't drink that, and they don't make good drinks." He's learned discernment through encouraged experimentation and discovered his palate's affinity for sweeter flavors: Averna being his current favorite.

Luis' respect and preserved sense of wonder for bartending gave me a fuzzy feeling as I walked away from our interview together. Ironically enough, as I crossed Sunset Blvd and headed north on Vine St., I passed a woman wearing a t-shirt that read "I'm afraid of Mexicans." Well sh*t, she's really missing out.

Next time you're having a party, instead of hiring the usual suspects, try reaching out to Luis and his brother at Luis084@live.com.

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