For East Los Angeles native Aaron Melendrez, it all started in his family's kitchen. He would stand there as a young boy watching his abuelita and tia prepare traditional Mexican dishes while he soaked in the flavors, scents and recipes of his heritage. By 12 years old, he was making cocktails for his mother and taking her direction on what to do to get the recipe just right. This immersive experience would later influence his signature approach to creating cocktails and beverage programs all over the city.
Melendrez got his start waiting tables in some of L.A.'s best restaurants - the Soho House West Hollywood, Gordon Ramsey's at the London Hotel during its Michelin starred tenure and the reopening of the illustrious Hotel Bel Air. The more time he spent working in restaurants, the more he felt the pull to be behind the bar. He enlisted the help of one of his good friends, an experienced bartender, to teach him the techniques of classic drink making while refining his palate by tasting spirits and wines. With this self education in hand he got his first bartending job and, within a month, was promoted to head bartender. After a few more years of learning and “paying his dues,” Melendrez was creating and revitalizing beverage programs for some of the best bars and restaurants in the city - Salazar, Normandie Club, and The Walker Inn to name a few. Throughout all this he continues to honor his Mexican roots and the lessons learned in his family's kitchen by incorporating bold, rich Latin American flavors in his approach to creating beverage programs and making cocktails that even mama would be proud of.
Sit at any bar with Damian Diaz at the helm and chances are, one cocktail later, you're telling him your life story; two cocktails, your deepest darkest secrets. But don't blame the alcohol, that's just Diaz's magical ability to pull out your truest self with the ease of a magician pulling a quarter from behind your ear. Diaz is a people's bartender, someone with the rare ability to make anyone from any background, creed or color feel immediately at ease.
He moved to Los Angeles from The Bay, Vallejo specifically, with four years serving experience, but fate had other plans for him when a bartender called in sick one night and he was asked to sub in. The rest is history. Since then he's worked in some of the most exciting bars in the city from high volume clubs like The Conga Room and Hollywood's famous Ohm Nightclub, to classic cocktail focused and award-winning establishments like the revitalized Hotel Figueroa and Everson Royce Bar; named one of the “Best Bars in America” by Esquire. And while most bartenders would be happy to settle into a comfortable groove, Diaz is a restless learner, constantly seeking ways to perfect his craft while adding his signature flair to every pursuit.
For born and bred Boyle Heights native Othón Nolasco, the story begins during his college years. Unfortunately for his football team, but lucky for us imbibers, Nolasco tore his rotater cuff while playing college football leaving him to find a way to pay for school while taking extra credits to graduate early. This led to a dishwashing job and after a series of promotions ended up behind the bar.
Beyond the drink making and the joy he found in getting to “help the people,” one of his favorite things about being behind the bar was simply being given the opportunity to listen. He took the stories and advice from his seasoned regulars to heart, recognizing that the life wisdom being passed on to him was something to be treasured.
It was this willingness to listen combined with his incredible discipline and work ethic which would lead him to create one of the most succesful bar programs in Los Angeles at Everson Royce Bar (E.R.B.). Under his leadership as beverage director of E.R.B, they were awarded Best Cocktail Bar in Los Angeles by TimeOut LA and were immortalized into Esquire's Hall of Fame after being named one of the “Best Bars in America.”
Ask anyone to describe Nolasco and they'll use words like, “leader, class act, calm and collected,” but Nolasco doesn't settle in the comfort of being one of the most respected bartenders in town. He understands that there is a learning opportunity in every situation where most people assume they already know it all. He counts industry heavy weights Chris Ojeda, Eric Alperin and Pablo Moix as mentors and close confidants. “Never let up. Always give your best and you'll never feel regret.” This is the ethos of Othón Nolasco.