Justin Lavenue is having a good year. The talented barkeep was just named Eater Austin’s 2015 Bartender of the Year, and prior to that he was named Food & Wine’s 2015 Best New Mixologist and Bombay Sapphire’s Most Imaginative Bartender. So he seemed like the kind of guy we might like. And also the kind of guy we might go to for some insights into the Austin drinking scene. So we did just that.
Name: Justin Lavenue
Hometown: Austin, TX
Place of Employment: The Roosevelt Room
Bartending Since: 2008
You’ve had quite a year, with recognition from Eater, Food & Wine and now being named Bombay Sapphire’s Most Imaginative Bartender. To what do you attribute these recent wins?
That’s a great question that I haven’t really thought about until now. To be completely honest, I would have to say:
–My stubbornness. I have incredibly high standards and expectations of myself and the rest of my team at The Roosevelt Room. We maintain very strict and unwavering standards that keep everyone at the height of their game and eliminates any opportunity for complacency.
–My business partner and the rest of The Roosevelt Room staff, who always push me to get better while giving me enough shit to keep what little ego I have in check.
–Most of all… luck. I feel very lucky to have been recognized for the hard work that I have put into this career, especially winning the Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender Competition this fall. There are a number of bartenders out there who have been doing this far longer than I have and that are just as–if not more–talented than myself who have never gotten the recognition they deserve for their hard work. In short, I feel incredibly blessed for every article, award and word of praise, and will try ti continue working as hard as I can to ensure that those acknowledgements never lose their worth.
What are three things we should know about your bar?
1) The Roosevelt Room is the interim bar/test kitchen for the larger concept that will eventually go into the space. It’s called De Rigueur, which will (hopefully) open late next year.
2) We are located on a strip of downtown that, until recently, has been thought of as “run down” and “on the down and out.” It was very tough for our first few months of operation because there was absolutely zero foot-traffic. Thankfully, the block is getting revitalized and we feel grateful to contribute to its bright future.
3) Our mantra is “Cheers to you,” and that phrase has been woven into the fabric of our business model and how we train our staff.
Favorite cocktail to make? Favorite cocktail to drink?
To make, a Ramos Gin Fizz with Bombay Sapphire Gin… and no, I’m not pulling your leg. I love the process that that drink requires. Now, it may not be my favorite to make when we are five deep at the bar, but if I have the time and am making just one cocktail, I get giddy when it’s the RGF. Putting the finishing touches on that cocktail by pouring in the last few drops and raising that perfect head over the top of the glass makes something of mine raise in all the right ways. To drink, a Daiquiri, with friends and in one gulp.
Most under-appreciated classic cocktail?
The Dry Gin Martini. There simply aren’t enough people out there that drink dry martinis according to the original recipe, which is a shame because it truly is the world’s greatest aperitif cocktail.
Good answer. And how has your local cocktail scene changed over the past few years?
I think the most exciting thing about the Austin cocktail scene is the shift in the focal point of the experience away from the drink, and more about improving the guest’s night and wanting them to have a good time. Due to the laid back mindset that defines the city, many of the first cocktail bars took a more laid back approach to service, and because of that, the overall guest experience suffered. Now, people are finally starting to realize how little what’s in the glass actually matters, and that the most important thing to focus on is making the guest feel welcome and appreciated.
If we had one night in your city, where would you take us and why?
Only one day?! That’s not even a fraction of the amount of time one should spend here to get a feel for the city. However, if you were to plan an epic bar crawl, we would start the tour at Weather Up for weekend brunch. Then we would make our to Rainey St, which is a neighborhood that until a couple of years ago was just a long strip of poorly maintained houses. When the neighborhood got rezoned for commercial use, almost every house on the street was converted into a unique bar/restaurant. So we would make a stop at Half Step, the first cocktail bar on the street and one of the last bars that Sasha Petraske had his hand in before his passing. After that, we would head to The Roosevelt Room for a Daiquiri, since I hear they are okay there. Then we would stop by the best dive bar in Texas, the White Horse, for a Lone Star and shot of whiskey. Lastly, we would end the night at Whisler’s, chilling on the patio and making the occasional trip up the stairs to Mezcaleria Tobala. Good times!