After Hours

After Hours with Jodi Calderon

I’m always invested in bars. Like 14 days of the month, it’s just intense training and intense logistics work of making the bar successful. We spend the beginning just creating a bar template, making sure it’s cohesive with the city itself and what the client wants. And then I go in and kind of do the techy stuff making sure that there are no typos in the menus… making our infusions, teaching the bartenders the bar mechanics.

When I come back home, I’m usually at the gym. I really enjoy going to the beach and spending time with friends. I think that’s the thing right now. [When you’re spending] 14 days on the road, you realize that you need to spend time with your friends and your family… But, I think if I were to indulge or imbibe in drinks and food, I really like going to the Normandie Club, because duh! It’s always home base. Death and Co LA, too–it’s super intimate, really sexy. It’s a nice vibe to really connect with people. Republique for food. It’s unreal–the food and beverage program over there are so connected as far as the kitchen is really communicating with the bar team. And when there’s really good food and really good drinks, I think it just makes your soul feel good. Because you’re not picking one or the other–you’re enjoying both at the same time. Also pizza. I’m a sucker for Domino’s. Domino’s thin crust [laughs].

I’m usually an observer, and just really like to absorb my surroundings. So [what really gets me is] if I see an atmosphere where there’s just really nice dim lighting, great music, the space is full but not too loud where I’m screaming just to get my order in. But it’s connecting with the bartenders as well–just seeing what they like, what they’re into, what fuels them. And especially if it’s a place with food… I’m a bear at heart, so I love to eat all the time. I will never say no to good food and a good cocktail… There’s a lot of amazing talent and amazing atmosphere out there where it’s like an oasis… Like Death and Co–you just kind of forget you’re in LA for that hour that you’re there. I had that same moment when I was in Fort Collins, Colorado during my recent trip for work. I really felt like it wasn’t snowing outside or negative 5 degrees. It just felt really warm. There was so much hospitality–really genuine, good service… That’s how we grow and connect our personal experience to what is there physically.

I just recently made a Martinez with AMASS–that’s my absolute favorite because I feel like that’s me in a drink. Just equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, orange bitters, and a little bit of maraschino. Stirred in a Nick and Nora with a lemon twist is my absolute favorite. Nice and silky, very robust, but also savory at the same time. So that’s a stirred cocktail. If I were to be a shaken cocktail, it’d be a daiquiri, hands down. Aged rum, lime, and like, sugar. Done. Super easy. So I’m a little bit of both–it just depends. And then there's a moment, too, where it's like, okay it's Sunday—

I’m going to have a High Life and a shot of Cognac if I’m really in the mood for that.

As far as mocktails go, I really love me a nice ginger beer. The Normandie Club has a really good one where it’s just fresh ginger juice with a little bit of sugar cut with lime and topped with a nice seltzer water. It’s really nice and robust and effervescent and bubbly. I’m really into the spicy citrus mocktails. I mean, also doing something like a Piña Colada without any of the spirits. Something like Coco Lopez with a little coconut water. Maybe a little coffee and cinnamon over crushed ice. Okay, I’m going to have to get one now… Just kidding [laughs].

My guinea pigs are probably a few of my friends who are not really into the cocktail scene. I feel like they have a pretty wide range of palates and go to a lot of different bars–they’re very versatile, very open. So if they do the nod where they sip and go “Ooh, yeah,” then I’m like tight, it’s cool, it’s going to reach the masses. If I’m really getting critical, I usually go to my colleagues at Proprietors because we R&D [research and develop] all the time. After this, I’m going to R&D and help develop a menu. I mean, that’s kind of the range, where you have people that taste very critically and then you also have people, like friends, family, whoever it might be, who just taste to enjoy. Which is the main focus, right? When we create cocktails, I taste critically so everyone can enjoy them, no matter if you’re into gin, scotch, mezcal, just to kind of see.

Lately, with my position now at Proprietors, I’ve become more of a prep person. I really treat it as a culinary background, so just going to farms, even farmers markets, to be hands on really sets the produce as important. I think that’s where I’m really drawing all the inspiration from. If I’m doing an infusion, or even creating a cocktail, [I have to ask] what time is it, what season is it, how am I feeling, and how do I want to execute it. It’s really going back to the basics of just respecting the fruit… Doing infusions with things like cinnamon and fruit, just to alter the produce a little bit without breaking it apart… That’s always my philosophy when teaching other people or other bartenders–respect the fruit, respect the produce, respect the prep. Because without the prep, you can’t make drinks.

We do a grandfather of cocktails at the Normandie Club, which is my most recent bartending job. The thing I’m most proud of–that was a banger a couple of summers ago–would be the Collins, where it was a tequila base with just a little bit of pineapple gum, which is a rich pineapple syrup, and salted tamarind. And then a little bit of lime and soda water and a rim of Tajin. The inspiration for that cocktail is that I’m from Inglewood. Me being Filipino, I was pretty much raised by the Hispanic community, and I wanted to honor that… Creating that cocktail just helped me translate that so I can share it with people in K-Town. To this day, people are like “Hey, can you make this?” And I’m like “Ohhh I’m so sorry, we don’t have tamarind! [laughs].”

At the moment, I’m really pulling from who I am. I’m Filipino, so I really like ingredients that are tropical, savory… Using smoked banana leaves or rice… I’m pretty sure if you were to cut me open, I’d taste like a coconut and a mango [laughs]. Food and beverage really brings everybody together and bridges those gaps. And we also need that to sustain ourselves and fuel ourselves to get through the next hour or two.

For me personally, I'm super vulnerable in the industry. If you're having a bad day, you have to ask for help. You can't do it alone... You have a team."

You have barbacks, you have other bartenders, you have your manager. You have to ask for help. So that’s what I’m seeing now. Bartenders are really taking care of themselves… That’s why I kind of stopped drinking. Or not really stopped drinking, but started drinking in moderation. Because it’s my choice, it’s my body. And like yeah, I can enjoy this, but there has to be a reason. Like I want to celebrate us, I want to celebrate this connection that we’re having.

I think the thing that keeps me into it all the time is that being in a bar is one the last few places where you can connect with other people that are strangers. The coffee shops used to be like that, but everyone’s on their laptop, always on their phone. But at the bar, there’s always one person standing behind the bar and someone new will always come in–a guest, [someone who’s] never been there before. And you have the ability in that moment to get to know them and give them what they need. It’s really about connection–also intuition as well. There’s so many times where I’m so grateful if I’m on the opposite side of the bar and maybe a bartender kind of senses that I’ve had a tough day or they sense that I’m quiet, so they’re really trying to pull that extrovert out of me. And I'm like dang, you really broke me–I’m going to talk to you now. Because, respect–I like your vibe, I like your energy. So good on you, you know. And that’s what it’s about.

You know, what’s crazy is I can’t even imagine myself doing anything else.

Like I can’t. I think about it all the time. You wake up every day feeling fired up and you’re like… Let’s get it. I mean, it’s either this or the military. I think the true validation happened on the last day at the  Normandie Club. My whole family came out for my last day for my final last call and they stayed until 2 am–my parents are freaking old, like 65 plus… And when I finally called last call at like 1:30 and I saw my family I was like dang… I did it. That’s when I knew that I couldn’t even think about anything else. My parents were telling all kinds of stories about me and I was like, “Stop talking about me! Don’t tell them that story!” It was really nice to put two worlds together. I don’t think my family ever saw me behind a bar. You kind of explain to them what you do, but they don’t really understand what you do until you show them.

I think in our society today we’re just so all about the self, which is true–we should really look inward. But also, when someone is coming into a bar and they’re asking me for a vodka soda–just like straight up where they’re like “Vodka soda”–I’m like, “Hey, how are you? How are you doing today?” Kind of like slowing it down a little bit. It’s just one of those things where… You came to a bar to really connect. I’m down to give you what you want, but also I’m like “Hey what's up, give me a high five. It’s okay. Like you want a hug? You seem like you need a hug. And a vodka soda, so I’d be happy to give you both.” I think that’s probably the only pet peeve… We’re all living in the same fish bowl. Like, chill. It’s okay. Your friends aren’t even here yet. I’ll give you a vodka soda after this hug.

When I first started bartending, it was just paying for college. And then just making sure everyone was having a good time. When I got older, I saw it so differently… Now I just want to make really good cocktails and make sure everyone’s drinking responsibly, that they’re knowing their limits, that they’re just in the moment and super present.  I just feel like I kind of grew up overnight. Like, yesterday [laughs]. You start to appreciate all the little things… I always tell people you have to have fun first and then safety second. Because if you’re doing safety first, no one is having fun [laughs].

I mean all we have is now. Tomorrow is never guaranteed, as cliche as that sounds. If you’re going to do something, do it with commitment and love and honesty and awareness.

Photos by Ian Flanigan at The Normandie Club in Los Angeles

Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity