Sheridan Fay of Haven and El Gran Malo Talks Careers in Cocktails and the Changes Coming to Haven

Longtime local favorite Haven is no stranger to talent in the kitchen or behind the bar. With the recent departure of Aaron Lara and Zach Adams -- both of whom are now behind the bar at the newly opened Pass & Provisions -- Haven has restocked the bar, so to speak, with a new crop of talent including Sheridan Fay. Fay is also a member of the staff at tequila hot spot El Gran Malo. We stopped in to talk to her about the goings-on at Haven, including the upcoming raw bar project.

When I asked for something seasonal, a hallmark of the Haven concept, Sheridan quickly plonked down a spicy cocktail based on Leopold Brothers Apple Whiskey tinged with cinnamon and allspice. The drink was a perfect match for the rare brisk Houston afternoon.

With drink in hand, we got down to business.

First things first: How long have you been working behind the bar?

That's like asking a lady's age! I'd say it's been about seven years since I made that first Crown and Coke.

You're working at two different bars now. Is it tough swinging work at two places?

Yes, I'm at El Gran Malo, and I work at Haven. Balancing two jobs, a life and travel is never a walk in the park. Thankfully, I work at two completely different concepts that both focus on us as individuals exploring our craft and expanding each business. We stay in constant communication about schedules. It's nice to be able to switch off one concept and roll into another on days where I work doubles. It keeps things fresh and always changing.

I know Haven is working on a raw bar concept. Tell us about that.

This is a collaboration with chef Randy Evans and sous chef Philippe Gaston. Gaston won last year's My Table Awards' Up-and-Coming Chef of the Year. We will be a totally new concept within Haven: an international raw bar called The Cove, highlighting raw options from regions like the Pacific, the Americas and South Africa. Look out for amazing crudos, tartares, cured meats and seafood bowls instead of your steakhouse concept towers. Look for a completely new and innovative bar menu and some of our original house-bottled cocktails.

Last week we talked to a really talented bartender who hadn't done much in the way of competition. Competition is something you are familiar with. Tell us about competitive bartending.

It's still a totally new world to me. I enter every competition I can, with the intention to learn and improve myself. Simple as that. While it has been amazing to fare well in competition, I do it in order to get better. The more I compete, the more comfortable I am with my skills and creativity in these high-stress, high-speed, on-the-fly events. Plus, it is an amazing way to network with people across the country who do what we do and learn more from them. We love spirits and love to be creative. Sharing with each other and healthy competition only helps everyone get better.

What has been your favorite competition experience?

I would say my first competition with Speed Rack earlier this year. It pits the best women in the city in a bracket-style competition judging on speed and accuracy. All proceeds go to a benefit and cause so dear to us, breast cancer research and recovery. I still remember trembling just to qualify. I stirred my first classic cocktail that I had never heard of, and I haven't stopped since. It gave me a passion for a different style of cocktail service. Look out, Houston, for this year's Speed Rack competition. You won't want to miss this event.

Speaking of other bartenders in Houston, where is your favorite place to drink right now?

It all depends on mood and what you are looking for. For cocktails, look out Houston and check out the boys at Pass and Provisions. You'll see very familiar faces and you won't be disappointed. I can never get enough of Grand Prize Bar. From PBR to hand-crafted cocktails and everywhere in between. Right now, at home on our rooftop patio with a cigar, some scotch and this amazing weather we have been having -- that's my favorite.

The Cove raw bar is set to open soon with new cocktails from the talented Haven staff, adding to the already long list of reasons to visit. Haven makes a great place to stop in for a happy hour, so head over and let Sheridan wow you with a cocktail or two.

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Joshua Justice
Contact: Joshua Justice