Bartender Chat: Ashelee Wells of III Forks

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When I first visited III Forks to interview chef/ owner Ozzie Rogers, I couldn't help but notice how invitingly elegant the bar area was; bright and modern, yet simultaneously classic and timeless. So recently, after a long day at the office, I headed back to check it out properly. I found Ashelee Wells behind the bar that night, and we quickly got into some good debates.

First up was the idea of a bartender having a signature drink. When I asked her to make me her "signature drink," she balked and indicated that she didn't have one. "I don't want to force a particular drink on anyone," she began, "it's all about your personal palate."

After assessing what I like and don't like in a drink, she decided to make a blood orange martini consisting of house-made blood orange syrup, Grey Goose orange vodka, and a splash of Campari. Thus began debate No. 2. To Campari or not to Campari? "It's the only Italian liqueur I'll drink," she laughed. "And it's the only thing I will try to force on people."

Though I was weary of the medicinally bitter alcohol, I held my tongue and decided to try the beverage before passing judgment. But several employees and other bar guests were not so patient. The second the Campari bottle was out, the whole bar began to either demonize or extol its virtues. Who knew a liquor could be so controversial?

Though I'm certainly not a Campari devotee, Ashelee's drink was surprisingly mild and drinkable, and the blood orange syrup imparted delicious flavor.

Wells has been bartending, she said, "Off and on forever." Having done the Bourbon Street club scene in New Orleans, she found restaurant bartending in Houston to be a dramatic change. "You can't compare Bourbon Street to anywhere," she said, almost wistfully. "I'll never have another $3,000 night."

That said, she enjoys being able to slow down, get to know her customers, and even do a little libation experimentation. Stop by one day for happy hour from 4-7 p.m., when most drinks are $2 off and martinis are only $5. Maybe you can even get her to share some good Bourbon Street stories.

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