Abajo head bartender and partner Louis Fata had an off-the-cuff entrance into the bartending world. At just 14 years old the Bronx native accompanied his father to a friend’s Italian restaurant in hopes that Fata could find work as a busboy, but the bartender had other plans. “She took a liking to me and requested that I work as her bar back that night — her guy was a no call, no show, and she asked if I could work on the spot,” he remembers. “I said, ‘that’s why I came here — to work.’” Fata has been behind the stick ever since and is most recently helming the menu at Abajo, a tequila and mezcal-centric bar that opened in Tribeca in late spring. Here, he chats with us about the painstaking incorporation of avocado and mezcal, the cocktail historian he’s grateful to have encountered, and their much more practical approach to bottle service.
BoozeMenus: What went through your mind in creating the drinks list at Abajo?
Louis Fata: I wanted to create a menu that all people could truly enjoy — not just us cocktail geeks. Where people could have multiple cocktails without being too intoxicated, because how many stirred, brown spirit cocktails can you have before falling off your chair? And where you could leave craving the cocktail that you just had, and not be able to have anything similar anywhere else.
BM: Which was the trickiest cocktail to perfect for such a menu?
LF: We have a cocktail on the menu called the Haas Muzik, which contains avocado. It was tough to get this balance down because you are essentially trying to mix oil and water. The fat from the avocado tends to not want to blend harmoniously with spirits so easily, and it begins to separate. We decided the best way to combat this was to dry shake the living hell out of it! We use a ball shaped whisk in the shaker to help speed up the process.
BM: What can you tell us about your tequila and mezcal selection?
LF: The tequila, Mezcal, raicilla, bacanora, and sotol collection we have will rival any other in NYC. We have one off bottlings, limited production runs, ghost distilleries last productions, and some of the oldest and rarest tequilas on the planet — not to mention we are aging our own stuff. It’s a living, breathing library that continually expands, and I'm starting to run out of room here.
BM: What's best to keep in mind when incorporating mezcal into a cocktail?
LF: Whenever I'm designing a menu, the most important element is "delicious.” Once you have your flavors honed in, balance is the next step. Mezcal can be tricky here depending on the species and other flavors you are trying to incorporate into your cocktail. My suggestion is to truly taste and understand the nuances and flavors in whichever mezcal you plan on using and build from there.
BM: What time do you set your alarm for in the morning, and what's the first thing you do when you leave your apartment?
LF: I like to set my alarm for 9am Monday through Friday. This gives me enough time to walk the dog and hit the gym before I head into work. Saturdays and Sundays I set the alarm for 1pm, just in case we have a little too much fun behind the bar the night before. I'm usually up before then, but at this stage, it can't hurt to be a tad responsible.
BM: Who has been an influence for you in this industry?
LF: We had hosted a food and wine festival at the Ritz one year and there was a seminar at my bar hosted by a gentleman named Dave Wondrich. He saw what I was doing with my program and started to chat with me — I was unaware at the time of how influential and important he was. He personally invited me to take a class that he and a few of his friends were offering called the BAR 5 Day. I told him I would get back to him and I appreciated the offer. After a bit of research I jumped at the opportunity and enrolled. Those 5 days changed everything I knew, or everything that I thought I knew, about spirits, cocktails and the craft bartending world.
BM: Where's the last place you traveled that inspired you?
LF: I went to a BBQ joint in upstate New York that had bomb cocktails. I was super surprised, but it made me feel that what we are doing here isn't going unnoticed. I remember 10 or so years ago it was exceedingly difficult to find a place that you could order a good sazerac, negroni or old fashioned. I ordered a cocktail in the middle of nowhere — upstate New York — and was pleasantly surprised. The cocktail geeks are winning!
BM: What inspired the mezcal "lockers" and how does it work? How many people are currently using them?
LF: I remember my grandfather telling me stories of how he would go to his favorite steakhouse with the boys. He had a special bottle in his private locker along with some cigars — and who knows what else! I just figured that would be a cool addition to our space. We have about 20 people currently using them, and it’s a wide array of restaurant owners, silicon valley types, hedge fund managers, bartenders, chefs and even a bottle for one of the godfathers of modern tequila — Carlos Camarena himself! You could purchase one of our exclusive bottles and hang on to it. It will be ready whenever you are. We didn't want to be the nightclub shoving vodka down your throat and hurrying you out the door. We have some pretty special juice here. It’s meant to be savored. Sometimes that takes more than one night!
BM: Can you tell us a little more about your barrel-aged mezcal?
LF: I have no clue how it’s going to taste. Hopefully delicious! We will probably break it out at some point next spring.
BM: What music is playing when you're working?
LF: We usually play cool, funky, eclectic hip-hop and smooth 70s stuff. It's just the vibe we feel fits the space, and it’s what I enjoy most.
By Nicole Schnitzler
(Photos by Bryan Bedder | From left: