Bar Beat

Bartender Chat: Aaron Lara of Haven

Aaron Lara, bartender at Haven, is a self-proclaimed cocktail nerd. Although he got into bartending unexpectedly (he was applying for a valet position during college, but was asked to try has hand at bartending), it has become a passion. "I'm absolutely and unconditionally devoted to making drinks. I love it," he says.

Aaron's approach to bartending is a scholarly one, resulting from studying not only spirits and cocktails, but also the history of the American bar. As we chat, he throws in bits of bar history and technique -- how the Old Fashioned got its name, the effects of Prohibition on his profession, and the use of the proper type of ice in creating perfect drinks.

Aaron credits his abundant knowledge of cocktails and their history to mentors Bobby Heugel and Justin Burrow, and to a lot of reading. In fact, several books sit on a shelf in Haven's bar, including a couple of Aaron's favorites, Imbibe! by David Wondrich and The Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock.

Aaron and his fellow Haven staff have worked to "designate this bar as a place where cocktail geeks can come and have a proper drink." The bar offers different cordials, Amari, fortified, aromatized wines and local artisanal beers, such as Real Ale and St. Arnold's. Committed to high quality, Aaron doesn't use any artificially flavored or sweetened ingredients. All citrus is prepared fresh daily, and cane sugar is used to sweeten cocktails. As Aaron says, "Life is too short to drink bad drinks."

Aaron whipped up an Americano, a "simple, refreshing, easy-drinking, spritzy, bubbly" cocktail, as well as his signature Single Village as we chatted.

What's the best part of bartending?

All of the access to really, really fantastic world-class spirits.

In three words, describe your bartending style.

Classic, tailored and polished.

If you could ban any drink from bars, what would it be?

I don't want to offend anyone, but any cocktail that's using the term "martini" or the suffix "tini" that isn't actually such. Something that's often overlooked is the fact that a martini is a gin cocktail that follows a very standard recipe.

Basically, sometime around the mid-1980s, there were a lot of mid-level chain restaurants and hotel managers that were looking for ways to revive bar business, and a lot of these guys got on the band wagon of taking citrusy, fruity, artificially flavored drinks and attaching the suffix "tini" or the word "martini" to them and serving them in a classic V-shaped cocktail glass.

Because they were thinking of ways to create business, they starting thinking of trigger words that conjured up these sort of debonair, sexy images, and the first one that came to mind was "martini." So that's where you saw the unfortunate advent of the apple martini and the chocolate martini and things like that. We don't necessarily want to get away from those drinks - I want people to have what they want and what they like - we just want to get away from the term itself being used because it's erroneous and it's not correct.

Other than your bar, what's your favorite bar and what do you order?

Anvil or Grand Prize Bar, and I'm likely drinking whatever the bartender in front of me, who's likely a peer, if not a close friend of mine, feels like making. Occasionally, I'll have a craving for a certain cocktail, whether it be a Negroni or a Manhattan or a proper gin martini, but in most cases I'll have whatever they make.

It's namely because it gives those guys an opportunity to showcase whatever they may be working on at the time. And, I know that as a bartender, it is most flattering to me and I enjoy my work the most when I have a good friend sitting in front of me who trusts me to make them a drink. Sometimes I'll ask for certain flavors or base spirits, but generally that's as specific as my requests will be.

Fill in the blanks: Someone walks in and orders a ___________. You think, _________.

If someone walks in and orders a Manhattan, I think, wonderful choice.

Do you have a signature drink?

I do. It's something that's going onto our new menu that we're going to roll out in a couple weeks. It's called the Single Village cocktail. I call it the Single Village because it's made from a single village mezcal by a producer called Del Maguey.

Single Village

  • 1 oz Del Maguey Mezcal Vida
  • 1 oz Punt e Mes
  • ½ oz Falernum
  • 1 bar spoon Maraschino liqueur
  • 3 dashes homemade black pepper, cinnamon and cherry bark bitters

Don't have any homemade black pepper, cinnamon and cherry bark bitters on hand? Go visit Aaron at Haven Wednesdays through Saturdays from three until closing. You'll get a great drink and, if you ask, a bit of an education.

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Carrie Applegate Jaeger