Until recently, bartender Bryan Tamayo worked at Ox Restaurant — the Oregonian’s 2013 “Restaurant of the Year” — and Whey Bar — Playboy Magazine’s 2013 “Best Waiting Room” — in Portland, Oregon. But Tamayo decided that it was time for a change, and starting in May of 2014, visitors to Comme Ça Restaurant in the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas will be able to experience Tamayo’s remarkably creative cocktails for themselves.
Tamayo has a passion for spirits and consistently strives to learn more and push himself to the next level. Check out Bryan’s Facebook page for more information.
I was looking to learn more about the industry. I know that Las Vegas has a budding cocktail culture and I would really like to be apart of that. It’s interesting how Las Vegas is surrounded by liquor but only recently has it had a focus on the craft of bartending.
What was the atmosphere like on an average night at Ox Restaurant and Whey Bar?
On average, our services were extremely busy. Whey Bar acts as the waiting room for Ox, so it gets really busy really quickly. The wait times at Ox are usually around 1-1.5 hours and 3-4 hours on weekends. The environment is exciting and bustling. Guests are eager to try new things and find out what the hype is all about.
What’s the most exciting aspect of working at Comme Ça? How did that opportunity come about?
The most exciting part about starting with Comme Ça is that I am going to learn more. They have an excellent training method and their management has been under the tutelage of Sam Ross of Attaboy in NYC (formerly Milk + Honey). I am excited to work for a passionate team at Comme Ça.
What do you enjoy most about doing what you do?
There is nothing more satisfying than watching a guest be blown away by their experience, whether it be the service, the food or the drinks. You have to realize that guests often have to wait for a long time to eat and are skeptical. When they say “This is the best Manhattan I have ever had!” or when you ask how their meal is and they can’t even communicate but with a knowing nod, that is most rewarding about my job. I help them to experience something they will be excited to tell their friends about.
How did you get your start as a bartender?
I started as a barback at a neighborhood bar in southeast Portland. I kept asking the manager if I could have a chance at the bar until finally an opportunity arose. I loved the job itself (meeting regulars, many of which became great friends) but it wasn’t for a few more years that I realized I loved the craft as well.
What skills or traits should every good bartender possess?
Organization, cleanliness, humility and overall friendliness. It’s not cool to be a pretentious jackass who makes pristine cocktails. That person sucks.
What is your most interesting cocktail creation?
I would say the “Foie the Hell of It” cocktail at Ox Restaurant (credit to Cory Rom for the name). I made this drink after seeing an advertisement for something called “Foie Gras Cherry Bomb” and thought it was a drink. Turns out it wasn’t. I started tinkering with the idea and talked with Chef Greg and Gabi of Ox Restaurant and they said “If you can pull it off, we will try it.” I modified the ingredients of a Clover Club cocktail to match with foie gras terrine and sent it off. As far as I know, it is still on the menu at Ox. They point of the drink was for people to add to their experience at a very meat driven restaurant. I want people to be able to tell their friends “I tried this cocktail and I actually loved it!” because at the end of the day, a restaurant and bar is an experience and I always want to make it one worth talking about.
Someone offers to buy you a shot. What’ll you have?
I will take whatever they’re offering, but if they ask I’d enjoy a reposado tequila or a nice rye whiskey. I’m also no stranger to Fernet Branca (classic bartender, am I right?).
What do you drink when you’re not working?
Socially, I’ll drink simple things like gin or tequila and soda. If I’m at a cocktail bar or out to dinner, I enjoy brown and bitter drinks like a Fanciulli or a Hanky Panky.
Have you tried any of the food items on the Comme Ça menu? If so, which is your personal favorite?
I have. It is a freshly sourced French Brasserie. They have an excellent charcuterie program (Board of the Beast is my favorite), a raw oyster bar, and an incredible roasted lamb with eggplant.
Is it ever difficult to maintain a work/life balance? If so, how do you best manage that?
There is definitely a culture that surrounds the bar and restaurant industry. Some is good, some is destructive. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t indulge, but having a solid routine and interests outside of work and bar life has been key. A friend of mine named Zach Schneider at Ox and I always remind ourselves, “We work to live, we don’t live to work.”
If you had to offer one piece of advice to someone just starting out as a bartender, what would it be?
Ask people for a chance. Too many people just drop their resumes off and expect employers to call you back. Have some guts! Look up the people that are respected within the industry and send them a letter (Yes, SNAIL MAIL) of interest. There is nothing wrong with saying “Hello, I would like to learn from you because you are excellent at what you do.” Worst case scenario? They say no. Sometimes that means working your way up from barback or even in some cases working for free. It all depends on what your end goals are.