Welcome to Barkeepers, a feature in which Eater meets the fine ladies and gentlemen behind the bar at some of the world's hottest cocktail parlors.
Kimberly Patton Bragg, new head of the Three Muses bar program, says with pride, "People make many regrettable and positive decisions when out drinking, and I've been a part of a lot of those decisions."
Bragg, who created the whiskey program at Tivoli & Lee, is excited to be a part of the growth at Three Muses. "The three muses are music, food, and drinks," she says, "and we're attracting people who enjoy all three." She adds that she loves the three minute walking commute from her home as well.
Most unexpected booze tip from our interview: although the restaurant has a well known focus on cocktails and wine, they also have a nice selection of local Louisiana beers on tap including Bayou Teche's LA-31 Biere Noir, NOLA Brewing's Rebirth Pale Ale and Hopitoulas, Parish Brewing's Canebrake, and the seasonal Abita Harvest, currently the Strawberry. She highly recommends another Bayou Teche Beer, Saison d'Ecravesse, which pairs beautifully with the crawfish enchiladas on the menu right now.
How did you first get into bartending? Probably just like anyone else, I was coming out of college and started working as a server in a restaurant, where we'd also be making cocktails. I enjoyed that a lot more than waiting tables. I was actually a manager/buyer at a toy store in New York for a while, but then I let go of the acting thing and embraced the cocktail. I realized I'm not a character actor, I'm a character who acts. And behind the bar, it's like a different stage every night.
How did you find your way to your tequila and mezcal focus? I loved running the whiskey program at Tivoli & Lee. American whiskey is like my husband... but tequila/mezcal is my lover. I love the terroir attached to it. Each brand of tequila and mezcal is personal to the producer's culture, and you can feel that part of their heart and soul when you drink it. You feel the love in the glass.
How is the vibe different at Three Muses than Tivoli & Lee? Well, you know, Tivoli & Lee focuses on southern food, and the cocktails followed that, a focus on American whiskey. At Three Muses, the menu is more tapas, Mediterranean, shareable, light kind of fare. There are a lot of different options on the menu, so we provide as many on the drinks menu.
What's the percentage of locals versus people passing through? It's a good mix of both. We're expanding our space, so hopefully we can get more locals in to enjoy. It's a great clientele. We want to be Frenchmen Street for grownups.
What's your favorite cocktail on your new menu? The Spaghetti Western, which is a call back to the reason why Dan [Esses] started communicating with each other years ago.We did a dinner lab, pop-up type of thing together with a spaghetti western theme, so this drink pays homage to that. It's made with Bulleit bourbon in the cobbler style, but instead of adding bitters we soak the oranges in Campari and also add a little rosemary syrup. It's quick, easy, boozy, and goes great with the food here.
What do you drink when you're off duty? Well, that depends. Am I spending tonight with my husband or my lover? [laughs]
What do you think the next trend in New Orleans cocktails will be? I think it's going to be more about service than how many ingredients you can put together in a glass. I think we'll be bringing if back to being fun. People want to drink well for their money. If people don't have a good time, they won't come back. That's the bottom line.
Do you participate in Tales of the Cocktail? I was in CAP [Cocktail Apprentice Program] for 6 years, and this year, I'm working with Tivoli & Lee on a Spirited Dinner sponsored by Mezcal El Silencio and [checks her email] I just got confirmation that I'll be doing a Dynamic Duo with Sean Kenyon doing High West [whiskey] cocktails. [I'm] totally psyched! It will be Saturday [July 19] 3-5 at Three Muses.
Do you work with the kitchen to create taste profiles for cocktails? My philosophy is that the bar serves the restaurant, instead of the restaurant serving the bar. I'm a restaurant-specific cocktail person, it's very important to me to collaborate with the kitchen and the front of house. I want the cocktails to respect the food.
What about naming cocktails: Is there a process behind that? [laughs] Yeah, I have two processes that I use. One is that I get drunk late at night and put idea names in my phone and then l look at it the next day and say "what the hell was I thinking? I don't even know what that is supposed to mean." The second process is... well, I usually go for more pun type of names, and at Three Muses, they're more music inspired, like Lady Sings the Blues or Between Sets.
So what are your plans for the bar moving forward? Where do you see the bar program in the next six months? Right now, I want everyone here [at Three Muses] to treat me like a regular greenhorn bartender, you have to be respectful of what's already in place. But in Six months, I think there will be a boost in the wine and cocktail programs. I envision culinary cocktails done in an efficient way.
Bartender, mixologist, or bar chef? God, I hate "bar chef." Don't call me that. It's insulting to both bartenders and chefs - for bartenders, it's saying that there's something wrong with being called a bartender, and with chefs, they earn the right to be called chefs, and it's not right to take that from them. I'm a bartender. But I guess I could live with mixologist, if I had to.
What's your must-have barkeeper tool? Those OXO jiggers - the double sided ones with the rubber grips? I love those. Also, a good spoon.
Kimberly Patton Bragg [Photo: Three Muses/Facebook]