A Happy Hour Hit

September 6, 2012 |

Downtown Kitchen and Cocktails

By Kelly Lewis

Janos Wilder’s Downtown Kitchen Cocktails is known for producing innovative cuisine, but Joe Cesar, one of their lead bartenders, has likewise been recognized for creativity in cocktailing.

In 2008, Cesar was selected by a brand ambassador for Grand Marnier as one of the top 100 bartenders in the country.

“I’ve worked in nightclubs, in hotels, in restaurants, you name it,” Cesar said. “But that was kind of my crowning moment. I got to be with the top mixologists in the country, the top sommeliers, the top bartenders, and I saw how the industry is changing.”

Cesar has over 30 years of bartending experience throughout Arizona and California, but his career started right here in downtown Tucson, back in 1979, at Bananas Disco at the Ramada Inn. After a few more bartending gigs and a University of Arizona degree, Cesar moved to California for a bit, where he worked in the film industry and bartended in nightclubs.

When Wilder opened up Downtown Kitchen Cocktails in October of 2010, Cesar saw it as a great opportunity to start working downtown again, and was hired on to help launch the bar.

“We really worked at finding a symbiosis within the bar, by pairing drinks with what helps to bring out the flavors of the food,” said Wilder. “That was really important to us when we began working on our signature drink menu.”

Some of their best selling items include the “Parisian Summer” with Tanqueray, fresh lemon, St. Germaine, homemade hibiscus syrup, Peychaud’s bitters and tonic, and the South Six, (listed below).
“90 percent of what I make in any shift are signature cocktails,” Cesar said. “We really bring it all together with the food and the cocktails.”

With an awesome happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. and a diverse crowd of regulars, Cesar said he’s happy to be working at Downtown Kitchen Cocktails. Especially since, well, its downtown.

“I started out downtown, and I love being back downtown again,” Cesar said. “I think some of the best bartenders are downtown, and the customers who seem to have a better grip on what’s going on in the cocktail industry are also downtown.”

On Trends in Mixology: “As an industry, I think we’re becoming more creative. We’re using fresh ingredients, and really, anything goes. There are no bad ideas and anything you can dream up can become a cocktail. At this bar, we’re fat washing bourbon with bacon, we’re using ingredients like cardamom and hibiscus. There are no bad ideas. There are bad cocktails, but there are no bad ideas.”

Favorite Ingredients: “Liquor-wise, I love using gin because of all of the botanicals in it. Vodkas are virtually tasteless and although it’s really popular, it’s not my preferred liquor. Gin is just so diverse. It has so many botanicals in it, and gins vary, from Tanqueray No. 10 which has citrus notes in it, to Hendrick’s, which has elements of rose. I just think gin makes a great base.”

South Six
2 oz. Hendrick’s Gin
1/2 oz. St. Germain
1/2 oz. Lemon juice
1/2 oz. Cardamom syrup
2 large basil leaves
2 slices cucumber
Homemade Ginger Beer

Muddle the basil and cucumber in a shaker. Add fresh lemon juice, cardamom syrup, gin and St. Germain. Shake vigorously. Pour over ice in a bucket glass and add a splash of ginger beer on the top.

For more information, visit DowntownKitchen.com.