Meet Your Mixologist: Rob Floyd
At Bar Centro, I don’t think you’ve really had the full experience if you don’t walk out without falling in love with something you thought you disliked.
Los Angeles excels in flair, especially when it comes to cocktails. Molecular maven Rob Floyd, with his team of specialized bartenders at SLS Hotel, ignites, infuses and ices via liquid nitrogen to create some of the best sensorial sips in the city. Floyd, who is the head bartender at Bar Centro, talks with Société Perrier about his greatest liquid chef creation, what it's like to work with Chef José Andres (one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People), and how bacon bourbon is his nirvana in a glass.
Chef José Andres is at the center of the SLS Hotel dining/beverage program. How is José Andres involved with your cocktail program at Bar Centro?
Rob Floyd: José designed the original cocktail menu at the SLS Hotel. But what’s great about José is that since then, while he’s really hands on when you need him, he also has enough faith in his team to give us creative freedom. He really inspires us with his confidence. One of my favorite things about José is that once a month we all have an opportunity to present a new cocktail to him. More than any chef I’ve ever met, he really understands that cocktails are their own art form. And he’ll get in there and roll up his sleeves and offer his Spanish accented opinion on absolutely everything. But that’s what really challenges us to continually get better. It’s a little like an Iron Chef for bartenders, but the end result is a menu that reflects José Andres as well as the whole bar team.
What do you think you're great cocktail creation has been to date?
This kind of career is such an evolution. I’ve made cocktails at every stage that I’m really proud of, so that’s a little like asking, which child do you love most. But I'd say that my newest creation is the Smoke on the Water (a.k.a. The Pliska). Travel and Leisure has it as a top 3 smoky cocktails in America and it was followed by the Wall Street Journal as well. I worked on this for about three months trying to perfect the theatricality of the LN2 (liquid nitrogen) smoke billowing as well as the atomization of a second scotch. I love that it’s a scotch cocktail that people who don’t love scotch, well, love.
Since you're a veteran mixologist, what golden nugget of advice would you give someone starting out?
Learn the basics first and never edit as you work. Sometimes the greatest discoveries come from a perceived failure. A great American actress, Eleanor Duse circa 1910, once said, “Ballast yourself with reality, and throw yourself into the sea, the sea of inspiration.” I love that quote and work from that premise with all my staff.
How do you get someone who orders a Cosmo to try something outside the norm?
The whole point of the Bazaar [Bar Centro is part of the Bazaar inside the SLS Hotel] is to smash your preconceived ideas. About everything. And at Bar Centro, I don’t think you’ve really had the full experience if you don’t walk out without falling in love with something you thought you disliked. Instead of forcing something crazy and new on someone, if you know a few basic templates, when someone orders a Cosmo you immediately have ten drinks in your bag of tricks that you know they are going to like. Once you have them enjoying something slightly different, you not only gain their confidence, but you really ignite a sense of adventure. Then it’s easy to push the envelope and get them to experience something completely outside their wheelhouse.
What are you drinking now?
My drink of choice is a bacon fat washed bourbon cocktail I’ve been working on. C'mon. Bacon and Bourbon. There’s only one other thing I can think of that would make it an even better combo, but I'll stop there.
Which Los Angeles mixologist do you admire?
Tough question, there are so many fantastic and talented people out here. My first answer would probably be Zach Patterson of Bagatelle and Brian Summers of Harvard and Stone. Also Julian Cox at Riviera and Jason Bran of Roger Room.
If you could only have one bartending tool, what would it be?
Taste buds. You can have all the fancy tools in the world, a 14 carat gold muddler with a Hawthorne strainer made of diamonds, but without the old buds, it doesn’t matter.
What inspires you in creating new cocktails?
I love making custom cocktails for people to be able to capture a moment, say an adventure, in a glass. The way it tastes, smells, and feels in the palm of your hand is a complete reminder of a momentary voyage. That’s what inspires me about mixology. Of course one day I’ll figure out how to capture parenting in a glass, which is my favorite adventure of all time. And when I do, I think I’ll be a very rich man.
SLS Hotel, Bar Centro, 465 S La Cienega, Los Angeles, 90048
Photos of Rob Floyd by author; cocktail photo by Rob Floyd