Charming and full of vibrant personality, Sarah Ellis gives a ray of effortless light to the cozy, masculine vibe of Sycamore Den. Originally from Park City, Utah, Ellis has been in California for the last 14 years, and proudly calls Normal Heights , or "Abnormal Heights," her home.
She worked at neighborhood favorite Jaynes Gastropub for three years, when she embarked on a trip to Central America with her boyfriend. Upon her return, she was immediately hired by famed mixologist Eric Johnson (see his In the Mix profile with DiscoverSD). In April of 2015, as Johnson transitioned to his current role at Juniper and Ivy, Sarah became the new general manager.
"It's a whole different level, a new learning opportunity, a chance to build a new time here at Sycamore," she said of her promotion to management.
Her feminine touches haven't gone unnoticed either, as she began including fresh flowers and transitioned back to traditional candles.
"It has been interesting coming into this space as a woman. My goal is, how can I make the space warmer? They have spent such an incredible time making this place what it is. I want it to feel like someone has invited you into their home."
She describes her cocktails on the current menu as "refreshing in different packages." Her latest concoctions include:
Silverback Fizz: Simply amazing. Like a strawberry milkshake that surreptitiously contains alcohol.
Carefully crafted with strawberry infused rum, lemon, Giffard Vanille de Madagascar, milk, and egg white, the Silverback Fizz is one of my top must-try cocktails in San Diego. As Ellis said, "It's a taste on its own. Velvety, subtly sweet and fluffy like a marshmallow."
Turnbull Tipple: As a nod to her background and her maiden name,
Sarah wanted to make "an upgraded shandy-type cocktail." The Turnbull is made with Famous Grouse scotch, lemon, ginger, strawberry and is topped with 2 Towns dry apple cider. Wonderfully refreshing, with a delicious Scotch twist. Try it, you'll be surprised.
Rainwater Reale: This spirit-forward invention is a clever variation on the Negroni with prosecco cocktail called Famiglia Reale. Her Sycamore Den version includes pisco, Broadbent Rainwater madeira, Aperol, grapefruit bitters and topped with prosecco. "I think everything's better with bubbles," Ellis said.
While she mixed cocktails, I asked her a few fun questions:
Q: What was your lightbulb moment with cocktails?
A: Honestly, I started in craft cocktails. That's all I ever knew. I had to look up how to make a Jaegerbomb.
Q: Why mixology and the service industry?
A: It's a great way to connect with people I would never meet otherwise. You get to be a part of everyone's energy. It's like being at the beach. Bars will never go out of fashion.
Q: Favorite spirit?
A: I go through phases, right now it's gin. I really like the amount of gins that are available, like the Old Harbor southwestern-style gin. An all-time favorite is Beefeater. It's great for fresh produce, cordials and syrups I want to work with.
Q: Favorite drink?
A: The Astoria: Beefeater, Dolin dry vermouth, orange bitters, lemon twist.
Q: Difficult spirit to work with?
A: Rhum agricoles can be difficult, medicinal-style spirits, there are some challenging amaros, but you shouldn't be afraid of any profile. I think people have better palates than they give themselves credit for. Actually, artificially flavored vodkas. And I don't think you can do anything with Southern Comfort.
Q: What's in the future?
A: This is a happy place. I met the love of my life here. I'm close to the owners and love my customers. I love this neighborhood. I'm learning how to breakdance. There is a great mishmash of people here. Everyone is walking to their own beat. Abnormal Heights, right?
With 15 years in the restaurant and beverage industry and more than 700 reviews under her belt, Laurie Delk is a one-stop guide to all things craft beer, wine and spirits. You can follow Delk on Twitter @100beers30days or Instagram @sandiegobeer. Send ideas for featured drinks to firstname.lastname@example.org.