Bartenders hear our stories all the time. So let's hear theirs for a change. This is Behind the Bar: interviews with bartenders over a drink (or two). The series starts with Cardinal's own barman Jake Cifuentes.
— by Kajal Singh
What spirit should people drink more of?
Definitely the White Oak Whiskey (from Cardinal). Whiskey drinkers get a little scared away by the unaged aspect and the fact that it’s clear. But it’s good on its own.
What’s your favorite cocktail at Cardinal Spirits?
My favorite drink to make is the Cardinal Sling. But I’m a coffee guy, so my favorite to drink is the Café a l’Orange.
What’s your story?
I’ve been bartending for about eight months. I’m a good friend of Cardinal’s general manager (Logan Hunter) and he used to be the head bartender at Uptown. I got drinks from him and watched him bartend for about two and a half years. He’s the one that really got me into bartending.
What made you want to join Cardinal?
I liked that it was doing something that isn’t really being done right now. I really liked the vibe. The people that were involved and started it up, seemed really nice and very genuine. And wanted to make a good product and do business the right way, so it’s something I wanted to be a part of.
What’s your magical hangover cure?
My magical hangover cure is bananas and bacon. I love bacon. Works every time.
What was your first cocktail?
I didn’t drink until after I finished college. So, I feel like I appreciate spirits a little more. But, my first cocktail was one of Logan’s specialties at the last bar he worked at. It’s called The Smoked Libertine. It’s whiskey based. There are a lot of nuances to it. My favorite part is that he dropped an eighth of an ounce of scotch in it and lined the glass with it. Scotch gave it this heat, this smoky flavor.
Where's your favorite place to drink, besides Cardinal?
It’s a toss up between Uptown and The Bishop. Which is really funny because they are both very different. I like Uptown because it’s quieter, so I can write. But then sometimes, I like to go to the Bishop because it’s loud all around me – yet I feel like I have a little bubble around me so I can do my own thing.
What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve received?
Well, one of my best friends is the quasi Buddhist literary guy. He would always tell me: “Unlearn everything that you’ve learned, so that you can learn that you know nothing.” So basically, don’t get caught up in your own prideful bullshit. My best piece of advice to give is to realize that nothing is as bad as it seems.
If you could do anything besides bartending, what would that be?
International aid. Long term, that’s what I plan on doing. I’m not sure exactly what I want to do related to international aid, that’s what I am trying to figure out. I have Latin American heritage, so I’d like to work down there. Meet people who are doing work and see what it’s like and what I’d like. I know there’s water, education, hygiene, policy, social justice and all that. I know I want to help. I haven’t really figured out a medium for that yet.
Would you ever write a book?
Maybe. I’ve actually been working on a screenplay for about four years. I’m a big fan of well-executed romantic comedies, like Elizabethtown. I’ve always thought we have all these movies coming out in Hollywood that are about love and people finding the one. If we’re lucky, we all have that experience once. But for 99.9% of the population, it takes a couple times to get there. Those stories never get told.
My screenplay is about this guy going through a breakup and coming to realize his own agency. I’ve done it in my life and I know other people do it too; they put so much into a relationship, their identity is that other person. So when that’s gone, they don’t have anything left. So it’s sort of that process of realization. The symbol that I use throughout the screenplay is writing. The main character is a writer, but he is so devastated that he can’t write. He realizes that he is wasting all this time on an idea and construction that he built up in his head. It’s kind of him walking through that process. In the end, he isn’t doing what he loves and wasting all of this time on a construct. I was walking through the same thing at the time I started writing the screenplay.
If you had to have a drink with anybody dead or alive, who would it be?
Oh man, that’s tough. Probably Che Guevara.