There's no doubt about it. If you are going to talk cocktails in San Diego, there is a name bound to cross your gin-kissed lips: Anthony Schmidt. The highly intelligent and sharp-witted former SDSU instructor speaks about cocktails the way a history professor talks about a favorite era, with passion, resolution and inspiration.
Meeting Schmidt in the tropical environment of Fairweather feels like stepping into Key West or a Caribbean island. The atmosphere is relaxed, breezy and provides a counterpoint to the Padres ballpark right next door. Opened in August 2013, the bar has garnered success and loyalty from San Diegans. With its living wall and pipes full of plants, Hawaiian shirt-clad bartenders and tropical drinks, you could sit in the corner and read Ernest Hemingway all afternoon. As Schmidt notes, "It's like an island in the sky."
Schmidt first started in the restaurant business right out of high school, working for the now famous New Orleans chef Donald Link at his first restaurant, Mojo, in California. This was his first exposure to detail and care, and he admired both its sincerity and intimacy. He has carried those concepts with him throughout his career, and it is evident in every cocktail and experience he creates.
When he came to SDSU, he started working at Henry's Pub, and in a period of five years, held a variety of positions. When the Stanton brothers decided to open El Dorado, Schmidt was on board. They traveled to San Francisco and Los Angeles, researching and finding ways they could bring cocktail culture to San Diego.
El Dorado opened in 2009 and became a hit, fast paced and high volume, but it limited the staff's ability to construct highly crafted cocktails. When Arsalun Tafazoli made inquirties in 2010 about opening Noble Experiment behind Neighborhood, Schmidt was inspired. Suddenly it went from 250 people and four bartenders to 20 or so customers and two bartenders. Now the magic could begin.
After that came Craft & Commerce, and Schmidt has been with Consortium Holdings ever since.
Q: First Aha! cocktail that inspired you?
A: It's a coin toss. The Vieux Carre and the gin and tonic at Varnish in LA. The Vieux Carre was perfectly balanced, and it taught me how to taste out precision and technique. The gin and tonic because with care and consideration, even the simplest drink can be special. That became our ethos.
A: Two. Sam Ross, who taught me about classic and timeless techniques. And Phil Ward who was adventurous, came from the world of infusions, and was more elaborate and risky with ingredients.
Q: Special moment in career?
A: The first cocktail I made, tasted, and knew was something special. I understood that if you are careful about timing, glassware and technique, the presentation is transcendent. I find that gratifying and rewarding.
A: Mezcal (this answer was derived with extended effort, as he repeatedly grasped his head)
Q: Desert Island cocktail?
A: Gin and tonic (also didn't come easily)
Fairweather highlights and my favorites:
Pololu Punch: House rum, guava, Aperol, and fresh lime juice. (named for a valley on Hawaii's Big Island)
Tropical Itch: Bourbon, Jamaican rum, Cuban-style 151, passionfruit, Curacao, fresh pineapple and lemon. First served by Harry Yee at the Hawaiian Village Hotel, circa 1957.
Pina Colada: Yes, you are reading that correctly. It is delicious and a guilty pleasure.
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 email@example.com