"In high school I worked at a pizza place…tried to get away from it, then a diner… tried to get away from it… but I always kept coming back." The tell-tale signs of a lifer. Morgan Mansur, a fast talker, fast thinker, can rattle off the R & D or the why behind anything he gets his hands on. At La Vista 101, the fresh retro revamp of Briargrove classic La Vista, cocktails are creative twists off pre-prohibition classics, though the mention of anything fizzy really gets him going.
"There's always going to be something on the menu with sodas," he says quickly, "I love sodas." After picking up the technique while serving as lead bartender under Sean Beck at Caracol. Mansur uses them frequently because they're great as an "apertivo, filler, topper, whatever." And guess what, it's still blazing outside, so the more soda cocktails floating around the better. Mansur, who works and manages the bar, also loves the fact that once the recipe is nailed it rarely falters. Consistency is always important, but most especially at a popular neighborhood joint like this one.
Growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Mansur was often roped into either landscaping with his father or catering events with his mother who, after retiring from teaching started a one-stop-shop event coordinating business. He has fond memories of clipping tulips and rolling silverware in their 60-degree house as they prepared everything from food to floral arrangements for 200 person weddings.
From studying microbiology at the University of Arkansas to beginning pharmacy school at the University of Houston, the Industry whispered him back again. He remembers calling his mother three months in saying, "I want to go to culinary school." He blew through a two-year culinary degree from the Art Institute of Houston, went on to grab a restaurant management degree from the Hilton School at the University of Houston and along the way picked up a sommelier certification. Not bad for a bag of tricks, but his willingness to be a blank slate and work hard is perhaps the reason the 28-year-old is where he is today.
First put behind the bar in 2011 at Prego, Mansur knew he had found his niche in the business. "I can be creative and interact with guests at the same time." Ah, the back-of-house, front-of-house hybrid; look out for this one in the future.
1 ½ ounces Vodka
¾ ounce Lemon juice
¾ ounce Thai basil honey
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Grape soda (a mixture of grapes, gala apples, and cucumber)
Thai basil and skewered grape halves to garnish
Shake first three ingredients with ice and strain back into the shaker. Add grape soda and swish that around. Pour into a Collins glass over ice, garnish with thai basil and grape halves. Find a patio, or stay inside.
Shot of Advice: For other bartenders... Remember, every day, every customer interaction is a fresh start. You can't carry it over. If someone rubs you the wrong way, reset, reset, reset. Our job is to make sure they come back, we are stewards for that.