The Curious Eleven with Clinth Lopez

The Curious Eleven with Clinth Lopez

After working in art logistics for over a decade, Clinth Lopez decided to pursue his hidden passion: hospitality.

He began bar-backing and after 3 months, stepped up behind the stick. Soon after he began managing bar programs before he landed a gig with the highly acclaimed Lyan Co., which just took home "Best New American Cocktail Bar" this year at the Spirited Awards!

Nestled in the lower level of Riggs Washington D.C., Silver Lyan draws its inspiration from D.C.’s incredible depth of culture, food, drink, people and history to offer a bar that celebrates the notion of exchange – as well as a damn good time. Clinth is also a proud member of the Westward Whiskey family. We sat down with him to pick his brain on bartending.

Clinth Lopez, Credit: @52chefs

When did that Eureka moment happen when you realized your mission is to be a bartender?

Bar-backing! Being behind the scenes of the energies from the bartender and guests, seeing the smiles and love shared across the bar from locals and regulars, that sense of community from hospitality bit me hard and I’ve been hooked since!

What are the TOP 5 skills every bartender should have?

First, and above all, because it applies to any job/career, BE MINDFUL of any AND everything you do! Hospitality means all eyes are on you from the moment a guest walks in, carrying that focus and awareness shows and guests can see right through it when it's not genuine.

This plays a big role when we discuss composure, this is something you can't teach, but integral when dealing with difficult situations like a drunk customer who refuses to pay or a fight between coworkers. One has to be able to restrain themselves from getting angry or responding in a negative way. Cool heads prevail, but being mindful also means mitigating the anger of others.

Always keep salt nearby.

Finding that balance of approach is an art, you can get an unreasonable guest out of your bar AND simultaneously make sure they pay their tab AND actually leave a tip. Next is always bringing your curious and eager mind to work! This is not a career for those not ready to learn EVERYDAY. The low barrier of entry into this industry also means we are constantly on teams and surrounded by people of highly diverse backgrounds, experiences, knowledge, and technique.

Whether it be a new skill, spirit, or ingredient, those always eager to learn will find success easier and are usually the ones who go on to manage bar programs or write cocktail books. Organization will be your best friend! Once you're in service there are so many moving parts at the same time.

One has to keep track of who ordered what, who paid, and who is still waiting for a drink, all while keeping the bar clean and neat. Being organized allows a bartender to juggle these multiple tasks and boosts efficiency. It collectively plays a big role in the guest's experience as well.

Clinth Lopez Pours a drink

Memory was one of my challenges when I first started. Whether it be the recipes of the new menu, recognizing regulars, memorizing orders with substitution details, or all of those simultaneously, a clear and agile mind is definitely needed for success.

Which cocktail is the biggest pain in the ass to make, pardon our French?

The one you just made! Whether it's an indecisive guest, someone that just joined the party, or someone not putting in orders at the same time, there is nothing more aggravating than knowing your efficiency was just compromised.

And which cocktail is served in your version of heaven?

Working with and serving cocktails is truly a passion of mine, but when I'm clocked out, I just crave a solid serving of Mezcal, so here in my version of heaven, Agaves are just fountains of Mezcal forever flowing.

Which drink or cocktail would you say is way underrated? (And a tricky followup: Which one is the most overrated?)

Classics! So underrated, in an age of kitchen techniques, tools, and access to obscure ingredients there are too many people forgetting what a French 75 or Manhattan is supposed to taste like!

BE MINDFUL of any AND everything you do!

As for overrated, Premium Vodka and soda all the way! If you want that premium shelf, but I pour you my well, how many sophisticated palates are really out there picking up on the difference? When the time allows and conversation is healthy enough, I love challenging guests to a blind taste test. I still attribute pure luck to those that guessed right hahaha.

You come home, slide into something comfortable, and throw yourself on the couch. What's in your glass?

Large rock, Mezcal, Pechuga if it's a real treat.

What are the five essential ingredients every booze lover should have in their home bar?

Angostura bitters, simple sugar, soda, vermouths, and fresh fruit juice.

Clinth Lopez Cartoon, Credit: @portraitlogo

Which booze is the most versatile?

They all are! Some easier than others i.e. Vodka vs. Scotch but at the end of the day, if you know your booze, and your mixers, your versatility in flavors is what really matters.

Is there a favorite life hack you learned at your job?

Like a good chef, always keep salt nearby, a pinch can dial in flavors that would have otherwise just blended into the background and left the drink flat.

What's the craziest anecdote you're willing to share with us?

In a more general sense, because like a parent, it's hard to choose a favorite, I'm just forever grateful for all the online dating platforms and being able to serve first dates, y'all keep me young and in good spirit!

What are your passions outside the world of Spirits?

Outdoors are always calling, whether it be hiking, biking, kayaking, camping, or just a visit to a garden, the call is always answered. Arts, as it was my background, still thrives in my life, much like hospitality it has a wonderful community made of some amazing humans I'm fortunate enough to call friends. Last but not least music, I need it, I crave it, mostly in a live setting, but beggars can't be choosers, especially in this day and age.

Clinth Lopez with a cocktail

What would you be doing if you weren't a bartender?

There were several paths I was considering during my year of semi retirement. I considered child development counseling to share my successes and stories, flight attendant to satisfy my thirst for travel, or maybe I would have gone back to school for engineering or tech. We'll never know!

Tell us what's your favorite tool of the trade and why.

The most important tool of any successful place I've worked at has always been the staff! Albeit, most did not see it as such, but let's not talk about where they ended up. Business is business, and run via bottom lines, I get it, but the staff makes it all happen!

A clear and agile mind is definitely needed for success.

Without them your ingredients, concept, and operations systems are useless. Those who acknowledge and capture that value are the ones who spearhead the movements that determine the future of our currently fragile industry. Likewise, I wouldn't be where I am if it wasn't for all the people I worked with along the way.

Fast-forward five years. Where do you see yourself?

There are two paths that are fast approaching as we struggle through the second half of this Jumanji year. One is entrepreneurship. There are major shifts going on in our industry, and from those shifts, opportunities are always to be found.

Two, consultation. It's something I've been wanting to do since before I got into hospitality, as my careers in art and hospitality converge, I've always been attracted to the opportunity to share, help, and support those willing and able to do more, do better, and do well.

A Genie tells you to pick someone to fix a drink for; dead or alive, real or fictional. Who would it be?

My grandparents, I grew up grandfather-less, and my last grandmother passed before I joined hospitality. Would love to know where their palates would have been the happiest and learn more of the immense wealth my family has been all my life. They don't know it, but they collectively bred the hospitality drive in me that took so long to come out.

We give our featured bartenders the option to highlight a cause that needs support in these tough times and Clinth chose the Silver Lyan fund. You can help out by following this link. You can also keep up with Clinth on Instagram, and while you're scrolling check out Silver Lyan.

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