Bartender Chat: Christa "Monster" Havican of Boheme
Christa Monster mixes drinks for a living, but she also paints and bakes a mean pie.
Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
Welcome to Eating...Our Words' Bartender Chat, in which we sit down with local bartenders and get to know their style. Whether they're slinging beers or mixing complex cocktails, bartenders are our buddies and confidants, but we're turning the tables and the camera on them to find out what they're passionate about and what makes them some of Houston's best.
Boheme is gearing up for a Chinese Lantern Festival, traditionally the end of the Lunar New Year celebrations. The official end of the Lunar New Year fell on February 15, but Boheme is drawing the party out just a little longer with the Lantern Festival, which will take place on February 21, beginning at 4 p.m.
For the celebration, bartender Christa Havican has invented two cocktails that use baijiu, a Chinese spirit imported and marketed by a Houston company under the name Byejoe. The spirit, made from red sorghum, is the most widely consumed liquor in the world, and Byejoe was the first company to bring it to the United States. So it's pretty special.
During the Chinese Lantern Festival at Boheme, there will be entertainment, food and two special cocktails featuring Byejoe Red, an 80-proof highly refined baijiu, and Byejoe Dragonfire, which features lychee and chile flavors.
Check out our interview with Havican, as well as her recipe for a Lucky Little Star cocktail featuring Byejoe Red.
What's your last name? I have two. Monster is what everyone knows me as. But my real last name is Havican: H-A-V as in victory-I-C-A-N. Since I was 14, I did all of my artwork under "Christa Monster." And that's what my name was on Facebook. I run into people who are like, "I didn't even know your last name!" So what I've started doing now, because I am a person and not just my art entity, is made it Christa "Monster" Havican.
How long have you been bartending? I've been bartending going on about three and a half or four years now. There were some breaks in there. I take steps away from bartending occasionally to make art or feed my baking passion. I mostly do watercolor.
What would you be doing if you weren't bartending? My two life goals are painting and baking. Eventually I'd like to become a children's-book illustrator or own a pie shop. Most of my art is this wonky cast of characters. Pretty whimsical. A little creepy. I have a show up at MKT Bar right now, but that's some of my more abstract stuff. The show is called "Behind the Bar," so it's influenced by cocktails and my background with classic cocktails.
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The Lucky Little Star cocktail will be a special at Boheme on Friday.
Why did you start bartending? I think what actually got me into the industry was forever ago my brother was missing a barback and asked me if I wanted to come make some money. After that, I started working at t'afia, and while I was working there, Joshua Martinez of Goro & Gun and the Modular was a general manager at Kata Robata and he asked me if I wanted to hostess there, so I went there and quickly fell into bartending. As my tenure grew there, I became in charge of all the infusions and pairings. Then I moved to Fort Worth to be a curator at a little gallery, and when that didn't pan out, I moved back home to Houston, and my bar family welcomed me home. I worked at The Pass & Provisions, then took a break and found my way to Boheme. Here it's relaxed, and there's room for creativity.
A person walks into a bar and orders _________. He or she has earned your undying admiration. Here's the deal: Someone who knows exactly how they want a gin martini and is willing to answer my five questions that come with a gin martini is great. My favorite cocktail to make is an Old Fashioned, and when someone doesn't stare blankly at me when I ask them what kind of rye they want, I appreciate that. You can earn my admiration by knowing exactly what you want. If you want a Redbull and vodka, fine! I will happily make you one. If you know what's in your favorite cocktail and you know the way you like a cocktail, then I will respect you.
What's the worst thing someone's ever ordered from you? A person came in and said, "Do you know how to make a Butt-fucker?" I was like, I'm sorry, what?! But then I said, "Look, if this is your favorite thing and you can tell me what's in it, I will happily make it for you. She didn't know."
What's your least favorite thing to make? I have such respect for people who know all of the classics but on top of that have the knowledge to make all the Butt-fuckers and stuff like that. That's a level of intelligence from a bartender -- knowing how to make a Smurf Cum and a Starfucker...can you print that? Anyway, my least favorite are these: For whatever reason, I cannot remember the difference between a Vegas Bomb, a Starfucker and a Red-Headed Slut. I have to look them up every time I make them!
What's your favorite ingredient to use? My favorite spirit would be rye. My favorite nonalcoholic ingredient is bitters. And then citrus. I'm hooked on citrus. Lime and grapefruit are my favorite.
Where do you drink when you're not at Boheme? I love to drink at Double Trouble. There's nothing like working Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning and then going to Double Trouble on Monday. I also go to Catbirds and Lola's. I live in the Second Ward, so I go to D&W and Moon Tower a lot.
What do you order? It is my grandest guilty pleasure to order an Old Fashioned at every bar I go to. You go to a place like Catbirds or Marfreless and order an Old Fashioned, and the results really differ depending upon the bartender. You learn so much about the person by ordering a simple cocktail. But each place I go is something different. Catbirds is a shot and a beer. Grand Prize is a shot and a beer.
What's one of the craziest things you've seen while working at Boheme? I don't have any crazy stories like a New York cab driver might have for you, but I have worked at three of the top ten places to have sex in the bathroom. Boheme is number three, because there's a couch in the bathroom. There was this one guy -- I hadn't seen him all night, but he walked up to the bar, and he was gone. So he walks out of the bathroom and walks up to me and says, slurring, "Somebody needs to check the bathroom. There's a lot of water on the floor." I walk in there, and the entire sink had been taken off the wall, and there was toilet paper all over the floor. I don't know if he was trying to be helpful and mop it up, or what. But that's not the craziest part. The craziest part is I saw that man maybe five hours later at 1:30 in the morning sober as daylight. He was fine. He was like, "Oh hey, did you get your bathroom fixed?"
What's one thing that you wish people understood about bartending that they probably don't? Maybe that not all of us are just in it for the money. It's not just easy, like you work Friday and Saturday and make a bunch of money and go home. There are people who really do care, and that's evident in great magazines like Imbibe. My preachiest moment is that even if you make a drink that might be unusual or unique, you're not a mixologist. You're a bartender. Own it.
The Lucky Little Star
1 ounce Byejoe Red 1/2 ounce Myers's Dark Rum 1/2 ounce pear puree 1/4 ounce tamarind puree 1/2 ounce yuzu juice Jarritos grapefruit soda
Mix all ingredients except grapefruit soda in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake for about 15 seconds. Strain into a glass and top with grapefruit soda.
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