Quite often for this column, I will wander into a bar and simply strike up a conversation with a bartender -- a process which has led to some great stories. But every now and then, it's all laid out for me and I have a bartender suggested by a reader or someone in the industry. This week's bartender was recommended not by one but by two separate sources within days of each other, so I knew I had to make time to sit down and talk with Nas Mirizadeh at Triniti.
Good thing, too, because Triniti always seemed a little out of my wheelhouse. Beautiful places with tasting menus aren't typically where I go to hang out at the bar. But Nas and the awesome bar menu at Triniti have since shown me the error of my ways.
I sat down and ordered the classic Martinez, which Nas was quick to inform me may have very well been the precursor to the Martini.
Where did you get your start?
I was a bar back at Yelapa. I had done other things in the restaurant industry and I was pretty tired of it. Just kind of, you know...I don't want to be in the food industry anymore. But they needed a bar back and I thought, well that sounds cool. I remember my first day -- we were cutting limes, and I didn't know how to cut limes. I cut my finger open. It was the first day of soft opening and I had my finger bleeding everywhere and I'm running around. Once I got through that day, I knew I was gonna be okay. Bartenders started leaving and I said, "I know how to do that!" The other bartenders and the chefs there were good and I learned a lot.
And how did you end up at Triniti?
I was in school and I was looking around (after Yelapa closed), and I knew some of the bartenders that were going to be here and they were really, really good. I remember walking in, I was the seventh person they hired and I was the youngest and I didn't get a lot of respect, but the best thing they ever could have done for me was to underestimate me. I feel like I'm more comfortable now...well, not comfortable, I don't want to be comfortable, because it limits you from learning. I always want to learn something every day. Being here and watching the chefs work the way they design the food and make these arrangements on the plate. I think I get to do the same thing with the cocktail.
You're originally from Azerbaijan, right? How long have you been in Houston?
1999, 2000. I'm very privileged to be here. It was an opportunity of a lifetime to end up here in America. I never looked back...I did get a chance to go back, though, as an adult, to learn about my culture and I realized the sacrifices my parents made to get me here. I knew that if any of them had the chance that I had, to come to a country with so much opportunity, they would make the best of it and make their parents and their people proud. We were in a small area, small life, we had our little farm. Things started to get very dangerous. The neighboring countries and the politics, we were in a war zone. As a child growing up, there are not a lot of options. You know, you gotta go into the military. It got to the point where we had to stay and fight or leave. We sought refuge in the main capital. They didn't have places for us, so they put us in classrooms. Maybe that's why I want to be a teacher, you know? Because it's my home.
And how did you eventually get out?
My dad always taught us that our brains would be what got us out of here, you know? He spoke seven languages and he worked very hard, and he had an opportunity through the company he was working for to get visas for families through a lottery. I remember I was in school and my dad came in, and he said we might have a chance to win. I remember he told my teacher, "You might want to give him some homework because we are going to be leaving the city." And everyone said, "Oh, where are you going?" and I was like, "I'm going to America!" And everyone started cheering and throwing their hands up.
One piece of advice for someone looking to get into being a bartender?
Bartending is a way of representing yourself. Start from the bottom up. Go be a bar back somewhere. I never want anyone under me to do something that I wouldn't do myself. At the same time, research, read, go out. Go out and pick different brains. Say to yourself, "Hey, this guy does this really well and this guy over here does this -- maybe if I put those together, I can do something great myself."
Give us one good story from behind the bar.
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There was this young lady that came in, and she seemed very smart and sophisticated and she was here for a while and some of my friends came in and I introduced them. When I got off, we all went and got drinks and she was just being totally crazy, you know, taking her shirt off...it got crazy. The next day, I had to student teach, it was my first day, too, I'm very excited, and then all the way at the end of the hall I see her. I turned away real quick to save her the embarrassment, like, "It's okay, I'm not gonna judge you!" I don't know if she was a teacher, but she was definitely one of the faculty.
One of my very favorite things about Triniti, aside from the great drinks, were the happy hour prices. Their cocktails during happy hour are all just $6, and small plates, which are far beyond your average pub grub, are reasonably priced as well. This visit certainly changed my view on Triniti. This is a happy hour go-to spot for me, not just a once-a-year special occasion place.