Meet Your Mixologist: Jaymee Mandeville at Drago Centro
"I've been camping and been able to make great cocktails with Dixie cup shakers and paper towel strainers."
Don’t let her petite size fool you. Jaymee Mandeville is a giant when it comes to her unorthodox cocktail skills at Drago Centro in Downtown Los Angeles.
Try this for size: gin, squid ink syrup, horseradish, miracle mile candy cap mushroom bitters, and heirloom tomato shrub. This may sound like some putrid pagan potion you’re forced to drink as a desperate attempt to rekindle lost love, but in Mandeville's domain, it’s a refreshing play on a Bloody Mary (center cocktail in photo). And who knows, maybe that squid ink will generate the spark you’re looking for….
We caught up with Mandeville before the Drago Centro happy hour storm broke to find out about her mixology mojo.
What sparked your interest in craft cocktails?
Jaymee Mandeville: When I first started bartending I had no idea what a "craft cocktail" was. I worked mostly in clubs, so sweet and sour was in the green plastic bottle to the far left in your well. I memorized drinks by color more than recipe. I think a couple of things are to credit for my interest in vintage and fresh ingredient cocktails. First, Los Angeles has really come up in the last couple years in the cocktail scene. These days, we are on par with London, New York and San Francisco.
Also, I started spending more time in restaurant bars and became curious about pairing cocktails with cuisine. Working at a restaurant, you have a walk in fridge full of fresh herbs, citrus, and other amazing ingredients instead of just a line of kegs and a couple limes. I started experimenting with ingredients and then purchased a number of modern and vintage cocktail books to study.
What's on the horizon for the cocktail menu at Drago?
Summer is right around the corner, so I can't wait to make use of all my favorite farmer's market ingredients like bing cherries, watermelon and peaches. I have also been exploring a number of different varietals of piscos and mezcals. I find the expressions in both spirits to have a lineage much like wine. In piscos, the different grape varietals used make both light and floral expressions as well as rustic, earthy and fruit forward ones. With mezcal, the type of agave makes a world of difference as does the ground from which it grows.
When you're not working at Drago, where are your favorite places in Los Angeles to get a well-crafted cocktail?
So many great places with talented bartenders behind the stick: Harvard and Stone, La Descarga, Pour Vous, Varnish, Bar + Kitchen and Neat.
What other off-the-radar spirit or ingredient are you experimenting with right now?
Byyrh. It is an aperitif made from red wine and quinine, it is elegantly aromatic, and a great palate opener for summertime. Now the question is: what to mix it with?
If you could have only one tool to work with behind the bar, what would it be?
Tools just make the work easy. I've been camping and been able to make great cocktails with Dixie cup shakers and paper towel strainers. I guess I would have to say a good bar knife.
What inspires you in your creation of cocktails?
I'm inspired by everything around me from the stories and history behind certain spirits, to the freshest produce at the farmers market, to the bizarre ingredients at a foreign market. I'm also extremely inspired by other bartenders, L.A. is such a great market with a lot of unpretentious talent.
If you were stranded on an island, what one spirit/cocktail would you request?
Tequila...if it could be Casa Noble Crystal, that would be even better. Tequila is a spirit I enjoy room temperature or cold, day or night, island or dark bar.
Mandeville is at Drago Centro most nights. Make a visit pronto because the spring cocktail list will disappear at the end of June to make way for Jaymee's summer creations. Try the The Yellow Jacket Fever of Nolet’s silver dry gin, yellow chartreuse, chamomile infused honey or the Cool Revival of Rittenhouse rye whiskey, cynar, yuzu, cucumber, with lemon and topped with a frothy dill meringue.
Drago Centro, 525 S. Flower Street, Los Angeles, CA 90071