A staple in the San Diego bar scene, Orange County native Seth Marquez has shaken cocktails around the county, including stints at Ironside Fish & Oyster, Polite Provisions, Sycamore Den, and Campfire. His newest venture in mixology is taking shape at the Clara in Carlsbad, located on the second floor of the Village Faire.
Noting the popularity and clear-headed logic of low-ABV cocktails, Marquez invented a list of sessionable cocktails for patrons to enjoy throughout an evening without face-planting on the bartop. As a special touch, he also offers these cocktails and sherries in communal pourrons, Spanish vessels which allow people to drink from the same glass without touching their lips to the surface.
PACIFIC sat down at Marquez’s bar to find out more about Clara, session cocktails and those funky-shaped pourrons.
PACIFIC: How did you get into the cocktail industry?
SETH MARQUEZ: I answered a Craigslist ad for a busboy at 320 Main in Seal Beach. I got hired on the spot, and this was the first place doing great cocktails in Orange County. I met Leigh Lecap there and it all came together. I wouldn’t be here without being there.
What is different about Clara compared to your time at Campfire?
The biggest difference from Campfire is there we smoked and grilled a lot of things. For instance, I came up with The Smoked Coconut, using young Thai coconut. We took out the flesh, and smoked it, then we blended with coconut water, then steeped it in hibiscus strawberry tea and made a thick syrup, then used smoked rum, pineapple, and hibiscus salt, then mixed it with charcoal.
Here, I wanted to do low-alcohol cocktails to pair with the light, clean and fresh food. We use high quality, awesome sherries and fortified wines, keeping it light and simple. Also for people driving up from San Diego or down from Los Angeles, it’s nice to know you can come and have a nice cocktail without it being too boozy. I call them “patio pounders,” they are sessionable and very crushable.
What qualifies as a sessionable cocktail?
It doesn't have a full 1 ½ or 2 ounces of a higher spirit. Here we cut that by using fortified wines or sherry, and you focus on the flavors more. So for the Iron Maiden, we use Manzanilla sherry, mint, cucumber and lime. At midnight, we put the Iron Maiden in pourrons and pass it down the bar.
So sometimes the higher spirit is cut, and sometimes it’s left out altogether?
Yes sometimes. For example in the Rosa Palermo, there is one ounce of gin in the cocktail, so there’s enough booze in there, but the flavors come out with the strawberry, lemon and ginger.
How did you discover the pourrons you use?
The first time I saw them was on social media; it’s big in Chicago. Between bartenders, they are handed pourrons of sherry, and I’ve never seen it in San Diego. It’s a fun way to drink with friends and people you don't’ know, you pass it around, it's a cool talking point, and it’s a lot of fun. People are nervous, but end up having so much fun with it.
How does it work?
The majority of what’s poured is Manzanilla sherry. You get 3 ounces for $7 and then if someone wants a cocktail they can do that in a pourron too. We give them a little towel in case they spill, but they are having fun. We also serve Vinho Verde wine, and you can do beer too! We cracked a hi-life and tried it, it was fun.
Favorite spirit to work with?
Favorite spirit to drink?
Rum. It can be funky, sweet; it can be all over the place. Sometimes when you taste rum you say, “What? This is insane!”
What you do when you aren’t inventing cocktails?
Recently, I started surf photography. I’ve been shooting for years, but got into this. I love traveling too.
What’s up ahead for you and Clara?
A line of non-alcoholic drinks with shrubs, using local company, Nostrum. I’m also working on brunch cocktails, I have one with pinot noir, lemon juice, Maurin, strawberry, and peach. It will be our Sangria riff.
Where: 300 Carlsbad Village Dr. #213, Carlsbad
Happy Hours: 4-6 p.m happy hour (with $7 cocktails) and try the late night happy hour specials from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.
More info: 760.994.0699, claracarlsbad.com