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Kimberly Patton Bragg Talks Whiskey and Ass Kicking

 Kimberly Patton Bragg
Kimberly Patton Bragg
Photo: Josh Brasted

Kimberly Patton Bragg is a force to be reckoned with. The head bartender at Tivoli & Lee honed her skills behind the bar at Domenica and Swizzle Stick, and even slung drinks at Molly's, before bringing the American whiskey revolution to the Hotel Modern. Bragg has shaped Tivoli & Lee's bar program into one of the finest in town, stocking about 50 whiskeys and never in short supply of an intriguing cocktail either. She hires and trains new bartenders only if they've worked as servers, "because you have to know that mental Tetris." And know it she does, one of the friendliest bartenders you'll find in New Orleans, she has also helped bring up a crop of talented, young bartenders? including Tivoli & Lee's Steve Yamada and Haley Samas-Berry? who reflect her devotion to service and crafting quality drinks, without getting too stuffy about it.

Eater recently gathered a slew of reader questions for our Ask The Pros series. Here now, Kimberly Patton Bragg answers them. Check back Thursday and Friday for Kirk Estopinal and Chris Hannah's Ask The Pros interviews.

Why are y'all (bartenders) so awesome?

Cuz we give you booze. We give you what you want. God, that's hilarious, and I have a sneaking suspicion that's somebody messing with me. That's really, really flattering, but i think we're just seriously passionate about what we do, and that translates. If you're miserable about your job, and you don't like what you do, you read that on the spines of people. I don't care if you make the best crafted drink in the world, if you're a dick behind the bar I don't care. If I'm making you feel warm, welcome, and like you're part of the party, I've done my job.

What's your least favorite drink to make and why?

The grossest drink I ever made? and of course I thought a server was messing with me because it was so vile? but she ordered it five times...was a dirty Cosmo. See, I'm not going to be fond of making that. That's disgusting. Kirk [Estopinal] kind of has me beat with a gin and milk though. That's pretty gross. It's like you're missing a few parts of that Ramos Gin Fizz. But yeah, dirty Cosmo. If that's what they want, I make it. I straw tasted it. It's just as vile as you'd imagine. I don't even know how they came up with that. It's nasty. If it's something that's just simply gross, I don't like making it. But of course I'm going to do that for them because it's my job.

What's a cocktail or spirit you wish more people would order?

I'm obviously an American whiskey fan. That's really where my focus is. I'm frustrated and I'm also encouraged by women-and-whiskey right now. Sometimes people are like oh I don't drink that and just order a vodka and soda, and great, you know, that makes you happy. But don't you want something with a beautiful corn and maple, vanilla and flavor, all that stuff? Women are starting to turn around to it though. There's a reason we have bourbon shortages now. It's not because men are drinking more, women are drinking it now too. So i'm really encouraged by that. American Whiskey is elegant. It's a beautiful spirit, and it's the official American spirit, so why not?

What's next cocktail-wise?

I think there's going to be a little more focus on cocktail service, and also going back to more simplicity. I love how we've gone through this pushing the envelope thing, and it's still going to happen because that's our nature? to experiment? but I'm glad people are going to be really looking at getting the skeletons down of classics and things like that. Then you can stretch out and go crazy with it. With the cocktail craze, bartenders are really getting interested in making this amazing flavor profile nobody's ever thought about, but your face was in the glass the entire time and you didn't even notice the person who ordered it. So I think it's going to be a lot more service oriented. Our job is to get people drunk and laid when you get down to it. We need to start thinking about that again. It's supposed to be fun. A bar is where people fall in love, it's where they break up, make business deals. A bar is kind of an atheistic confessional. We need to get back to making it fun again.

What's your favorite party drink?

I think rum punches are usually a good way to go for a party because it's going to be masculine and aggressive but it's also going to have that sweetness and sour content. It's just easier to please a lot of people, and it pairs well with a lot of things.

So much has changed cocktail-wise in New Orleans in the past five years, where do you see the New Orleans cocktail scene going in the next five years?

Kicking New York and San Francisco's ass. I think we need to be noted for that. I love all my New York and San Francisco friends. They're amazing, but they're doing stuff in Kansas City kicking ass right now, and Atlanta, everywhere. What's so amazing about cocktail culture, I think, is it's a trickle down effect from Food Network. Five years ago would you have imagined seeing an asparagus risotto in a Target? So I mean, people are a little more interested in food, and it only took a matter of time before they became interested in the drink too. Our guests are getting smarter. We're not the know-it-alls behind the bar anymore, so let's get back to some humility.

· All Cocktail Week 2013 [-ENOLA-]

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