Originally hailing from the small town of Milford, Massachusetts, about 35 miles southwest of Boston, Mia Mastroianni now resides in Los Angeles, where she holds down the bar at one of the city’s most exclusive clubs, the Soho House West Hollywood. With her confident and charismatic presence, she has been crafting unique cocktails for several years. Known in the L.A. bar scene as Tall Mia, she appeared in 2012’s “Sh*t People Say to Bartenders” video, which has garnered nearly three million views on YouTube, and beginning in 2012, Mastroianni competed against other female bartenders in Speed Rack, a competition that raises money for the fight against breast cancer. She placed in the top eight in both 2012 and 2013, and in 2014, won for all of Southern California and went on to compete at Nationals.
Beginning in 2013, Mastroianni joined Spike TV’s Bar Rescue as one of host Jon Taffer’s bartending and mixology experts.
How did you get your start as a bartender?
I began bartending in South Beach Miami once I graduated from the University of Miami. At the restaurant I where worked, I was actually first hired as a server, but the manager saw I was more skilled in being friends with the customers and socializing than I was in serving them! Thankfully, instead of getting rid of me, he suggested I work as a bartender so I could use my social skills to with the regulars and establish more. It worked, and as I now liked my job much more, I began taking a more interest in the basics of bartending. I continued to work as a bartender there and elsewhere over the next few years, but it wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles that I really immersed myself in the craft cocktail movement and started learning new techniques, ingredients, and entering competitions.
What is the atmosphere like at the Soho House on any given night?
The Soho House West Hollywood is a fascinating place to work. Being a private members-only club, some people have the misconception of it being a stuffy, elitist environment, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s actually a really fun, comfortable and relaxed venue — and every night offers something different: movie screenings in our theatre, live music, DJs, member events, with top-notch food and cocktails. Plus it’s always great for people-watching.
Who is the most intriguing person you’ve had the opportunity to serve drinks to?
Well, because of my confidentially agreement I can’t name names, but I have a collection of stories from interactions with a lot of notable artists. I’ve discussed scotch with an Academy Award winner, flamed citrus peels for a top comedian, shaken drinks in time to a song for the artist who had recorded it, have asked an Emmy winner to move his award so that I could set down his old fashioned, and made a martini for a former James Bond… that was stirred, not shaken. My job can be rather surreal.
How did the opportunity to appear on Bar Rescue come about?
I still have no idea! No one has ever been able to answer that question for me. I received a call from the show back in 2013, and started the initial interview process. Unfortunately, schedule conflicts prevented me from being able to commit at that time. Fortunately, I was contacted again later that year and then filmed my first episode in Las Vegas.
Off-camera, what is your relationship with like with Jon Taffer?
I am so fortunate to have built a friendship with Jon and I consider him a valuable mentor. He is a consummate professional and his knowledge of the bar industry is unparalleled. People may be surprised to hear that he has an amazing sense of humor — we have a lot of fun!
What do you enjoy most about working on Bar Rescue?
Every time I get to go film an episode of Bar Rescue, I’m always excited. Not only do I get to travel the country and visit cities I’d otherwise never get the chance to, I get to be a part of a top-rated show, go into bars, and help Jon change people’s lives. It’s very rewarding.
Not to mention I get to spend a week with the incredible Bar Rescue crew. After being on the road together 40 weeks of the year, they are a family, and every department is filled with solid people whom I have grown to love.
From your perspective, what separates a mediocre bar from a great one?
Service. You can get a great drink anywhere, but bad service ruins it — and you’re less likely to return. I can teach anyone to make a cocktail, but passion and personality are what take a bar to the next level. The great bartenders create memorable bar experiences while they entertain, cultivate friendships, and keep the party going!
You starred in the immensely popular “Sh*t People Say to Bartenders” video on YouTube, in which you poke fun at various types of bar customers. What are your favorite types of customers?
Of course I love all of my regulars: the repeat customers who come back just to visit. On a high-volume night, all bartenders appreciate patient guests who know their order, articulate it clearly, and are ready to close out their tab. But my favorite time is the magic hour before the bar gets busy — when you can chat. I’ve met fascinating people bartending, and have some great stories!
Are there any cocktail ingredients that are, in your opinion, particularly underrated these days?
Though it is finally getting some attention and recognition, ice is the unsung hero of any cocktail. Other ingredients come and go in terms of trends, but ice is the staple in any chilled drink, responsible for chilling and dilution. Whether you’re working with Kold Draft, hand carved, crushed or pebbled ice, molds, spheres, or straight from your freezer at home — ice can make or break your drink.
Someone offers to buy you a shot. What’ll you have?
I like to think that my days of taking shots are behind me, however, on the rare occasion that I DO decide to partake, I’ll have a shot of Jameson. I got the chance to visit the Jameson distillery in Ireland this past July, and Irish whiskey has never let me down!
What’s the best meal you’ve had recently?
It’s not fair to ask this question following the holidays! I was just home for Christmas and you can’t beat the cooking in my parents’ kitchen! My mother made three delicious pans of lasagna for the extended family on Christmas Eve, and my father made a shrimp scampi Christmas Day that was out of this world! Both meals were accompanied by good wine and lots of laughter — in my book it doesn’t get any better!
What advice would you give to young bartenders or those looking to get into the business?
Learn as much as you can and never stop; read books, know about your products, study technique. Have fun and love what you do. Respect the people you work with; they’re the people who have your back. This is a physically demanding job, so take care of your body. Know good jokes.