Thursday, May 30, 2024

Long Beach Bartenders Guild closes a gap in the local hospitality industry that’s existed for too long

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Yes, amid the tables lined with pours of various tequilas and mezcals from Nosotros—a tequileria and mezcaleria that has bases in both Jalisco and Oaxaca—it looks like a Long Beach Bartenders Guild meeting is made up of some type of bartending stereotype that focuses on booze and little else.

How do the Long Beach Bartenders Guild meetings look and work?

Of course, the reality is one that couldn’t be in starker contrast: Beneath the small pours are tasting notes. Appearing before the group is not only its Southern California rep, Chris Lewis, but the company’s founder, Carlos Soto, who goes on to later explain to the crowd his approach to Mexican spirits in immense detail and story structure.

Soto is joined by another rep—this one for the famed French house of Rémy Martin, who happens to own Cointreau, one of the key ingredients in a classic margarita—who explains the history of the margarita as it celebrates its 75th birthday.

There is a competition which encourages bartenders who are willing to taste a cocktail and, based off of taste alone, recreate the cocktail.

And, perhaps most importantly, there is a deep sense of camaraderie among the attendees, which began pouring in amid cheers, hugs, smiles… And this was all whether they were new—two bartenders from Irvine noted that the Orange County Guild was disconnected,” and they can “already tell there’s a bit more of a community here”—or well-seasoned with the Guild’s meetings.

The importance of having a Long Beach Bartenders Guild

“When Dane [Olson] and myself were first talking about this, we realized there was just a huge gap in everything when it came to Long Beach’s hospitality scene,” said Guild co-founder Tomas De Los Reyes. “It wasn’t about a lack of talent; it was about a lack of connection to resources—and we wanted to help fix that.”

Long Beach Bartenders Guild founders Tomas De Los Reyes [left] and Dane Olson [right]. Photo by Brian Addison.

Tomas is not remotely far off in assessment regarding disconnect: In 2020, at the peak of the pandemic, Long Beach bar owners realized that, unlike restaurants that coalesced during that time order to fight against measures which harmed their business, bars were disparate if not outright disconnected—and as the talent amongst local crafters only intensified, Tomas and Dane saw an opportunity.

“We’re not even limiting ourselves to those with experience in cocktail culture,” Dane said. “You’re a line cook or general manager interested in learning how to better pair cocktails with food? We’re here for you. You’re a person working at a brewery and want to learn how beers and cocktails can co-mingle? We’re here for you. You’re a bar owner who simply doesn’t have the time to educate your staff on all the subtleties? We’re here for you… The main thing is: No one has been able to get 50 bartenders and plop them in a single space to collaborate and learn from one another. We do that. Every month.”

What’s the ultimate goal of the Long Beach Bartenders Guild?

Tomas and Dane’s passion—humble, grounded, knowledgeable—is translated into a simple objective: Raising awareness of and giving the credit to Long Beach’s hospitality scene that it deserves. And with it, they’ve created a network that can connect folks with jobs—”I literally have a few resumes I need to look at,” Dane said”—and fosters a sense of We’ve Got Your Back and, as cheesy as it sounds, We’re All Better Working Together.

Let’s be honest: Sometimes, it isn’t the talent of the bar manager nor the philosophy of its owner that is off cue; it is simply a relationship that doesn’t work and that doesn’t mean talent shouldn’t have a space to continue to grow and that the owner can’t be immediately connected with another form of talent.

On top of this, you have a genuine sense of education—and not in just the idea that someone will singularly benefit but that also, this person will hone their newfound knowledge at their workplace—and competition—in the healthiest way possible: Cocktail competitions, particularly the Tropical Shakedown, have become essential parts of the Guild’s operations.

“It really is about uplifting this community and providing them a sense of pride,” Tomas said. “We see the talent here in Long Beach and it deserves a spotlight.”

And the “spotlight” isn’t just recognition: Tropical Shakedown gives its winner a free trip to Tiki Oasis—the nation’s largest tiki conference—with a stay for two at a hotel and, even more, a paid gig inside a booth at the conference. Money, education, exposure.

Whether Dane or Tomas are too humble to say it, Long Beach Bartenders Guild—in its short, barely-a-year existence—is legit, having grown to monthly events that attract anywhere from 50 to 100 people while also providing varying pathways that actually benefit hospitality workers.

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“Ultimately, it’s really simple,” Dane said. “We understand the business—genuinely—and we want to see Long Beach’s hospitality scene grow on all levels.”

Well, damn, can we get a cheers to that?

For more information on the Long Beach Bartenders Guild, email: cocktails@longbeachbartendersguild.org

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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