The Curious 11 with Joan Villanueva

The Curious 11 with Joan Villanueva

Originally from Tijuana, Mexico, Joan Villanueva became entranced with the art of cocktail creation while attending college at San Diego State.

He started in restaurants at the bottom as a dishwasher. With his keen attention to service, he quickly found himself climbing the ladder to become a head server at a fine dining restaurant. Villanueva got his big break when the restaurant’s bartender called out sick and he was asked to cover his shift. For him, standing behind the bar was love at first sight.

Joan Villanueva

After finishing college and spending two years working an unfulfilling office job, Villanueva had the good fortune of meeting Antonio Gonzalez whose knowledge and bar savvy turned Antonio into a mentor figure. After time spent honing his skills at Coronado’s Azzura Point and Mistral, Villanueva was given the opportunity to head the cocktail program at The Hake Kitchen & Bar in La Jolla. There, his seasonal creations have gained notoriety among locals and out-of-town visitors. Joan currently helms the bar at Galaxy Taco in La Jolla.

When not behind the bar, Joan can be found taking part in various cocktail competitions and experimenting with new rare ingredients at home.

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

Probably early.

What are the TOP 5 skills every bartender/mixologist should have?

Patience, Empathy, being easy-going, humble, joyful.

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

Not sure that I have one, all cocktails deserve love when made. Some are just most elaborate.

And which cocktail is served in your version of heaven?

Oh! Wild Turkey Old Fashioned or Fernet neat.

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

Underrated - Cosmo all the way! Overrated, Moscow Mule.

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

Fernet or anything from St. George on the rocks.

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

Fernet, Whiskey, Bitters, Absinthe, and definitely a good bar toolset.


Which booze is the most versatile?

All of it, I think it is more important to learn how to use it.

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

Make a prep list and double-check it.

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

Too many to share, but traveling with friends to Kentucky was pretty epic.

Piña Colada

What are your passions outside the world of Spirits?

Music, Dr. Who, making salsa.

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

I'd be an Anthropology professor, but like Indiana Jones.

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

Smile and Fernet coin, they just come in handy in any situation.

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

Teaching a tiny human how to ride a bike and stir a mean lemonade.

Like what you read? You can keep up with Joan by following him on Instagram and while you're scrolling, check out Galaxy Taco.

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