We had the good fortune of connecting with Cari Hah and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Cari, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
When I was just starting out my career in the bar world, I was really determined to become successful in this industry, so my work life balance was definitely non-existent. I was 100% work and no “personal life”. Every moment of every day I spent either working behind the bar, reading about bar related things, practicing technique and creating cocktails, doing events, etc. Anything I could do to further myself and my knowledge of bar, I would do and there really was zero time to rest or have a personal life. I dedicated myself wholly to this industry because I am so passionate about great cocktails, bars, and hospitality. And also passionate about the cocktail scene in Los Angeles. I love my city and I always want to uplift and support Los Angeles’ hospitality industry in some kind of meaningful way. Over the last decade, I never really was able to achieve work/life balance. It is only very recently since Covid-19 shutdowns and restrictions which ultimately led to my current unemployment status that I have been forced to take a break from work and really reflect on what is important in my life. Having a forced break from work has been really difficult because I am so used to working all of the time, but it has allowed me to take a look at my relationships with my family, friends and even myself in terms of health and mental/emotional wellness. Balance is so different for everyone, but as long as you identify what brings you the most joy and fulfillment and live into that truth, that is achieving balance!
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
When people ask me what I do for a living and I say “I’m a bartender” I often see a look on faces like “that isn’t a legit job” but that is the simple answer of what I do. My job encompasses so many aspects of the hospitality and liquor industry it is sometimes hard to explain. I do consider myself an artist because cocktails are art; both the result in the glass and also the creating of the cocktail itself. It is pretty easy to make a tasty cocktail, but it is difficult to make a delicious creative unique cocktail that can be made quickly and perfectly during a busy service, that has the correct pour cost to actually make money for your bar, and that the clientele your bar caters to would enjoy. All these factors are critical when you create a cocktail to be sold in a bar and it is definitely an art. Becoming an excellent bar professional has been an uphill battle. A decade ago, craft cocktail bars were almost non existent. I had experience bartending in clubs where drinks were made quickly with a lot of non quality ingredients and it was all about volume and speed. When the craft cocktail movement first arrived in Los Angeles I fell in love with this new style of craft bartending and quality cocktails and wanted to learn but there were no mentors or people who were willing to teach me anything. Trying to learn: all the different kinds of liquor, methods of distillation, flavor combinations, techniques for bartending, perfect pouring, fast cocktail execution, building rounds, multitasking tips on how to take care of guests and make cocktails at the same time, movement behind the bar, etc was very challenging on my own. I just worked, practiced, studied and spent a lot of time in bars observing people I admired to make myself better. I do believe perseverance and tenacious work ethic will always get you far! Ironically, the greatest most important lesson I‘ve learned over the years is that when I am behind the bar its never about me, my skills or what I want. What my guest wants and needs is the only thing that matters to me during our time together. Being able to provide that service to meet those needs is my idea of hospitality; my job and joy.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Well this is kind of interesting since there are so many restrictions on where we can go/eat/entertain ourselves. My idea of a good time is visiting different cocktail bars and restaurants so that would be my focus. Right now during these weird times, I only go to places that are take good precautions to keep COVID-19 restrictions and also have great food/cocktails. Since I live in downtown, I mostly go out in my neighborhood. Redbird has phenomenal food by Chef Neal Fraser and tasty cocktails as well. Tobin Shea is the brains behind the bar there and his cocktails are very well balanced and interesting. His team is extremely hospitable and time spent in that beautiful restaurant seems like a vacation from real life. Another place I love to go is DAMA in the fashion district of downtown. It was built with a huge outdoor patio so you are sitting in the real dining room, not just some tables setup in a parking lot. The food there is excellent and the hospitality is impeccable. It is an oasis in the concrete jungle. I also like to walk to my casual local spots. The Arts District Brewing Company is always a good choice for any sort of group more than two people. They have created outdoor seating to accommodate social distancing and they make their own beers as well as have a full liquor selection. The Mermaid in Little Tokyo is another beloved local spot. They have a shared outdoor seating situation with other restaurants in the plaza, so you can grab a cocktail (or tequila in my case) and eat from any of the establishments as well! Ramen with your cocktail? Yes please! For a terrific outdoor garden patio environment with delicious cocktails for happy hour or brunch I would suggest Big Bar at Alove Cafe in Los Feliz. Sitting in a beautiful garden with a delicious drink in hand, you can almost forget that you’re in a city at all! Finally, since most visitors would want to go to the beach while in Los Angeles I would get some to-go cocktails to take to the beach and spend the day. Thunderbolt right on the outskirt of downtown has a really good to-go cocktail program with fun drinks that are packaged perfectly and ready to take on your adventures. We are so limited these days in what we can do out and about so these are just a few things that come to mind.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Shoutout to all the bartenders and other hospitality workers who are currently working during these times under extremely difficult circumstances! They put their health on the line for every shift to provide people with food/drinks and a moment of respite in this crazy world we are living (so don’t forget to tip well and be nice!) Also, shoutout to everyone who will VOTE this year!! PLEASE VOTE!
Instagram: carisunnie or tigermomcocktails