Drinker of the Month: Peppermill Casino’s Annalisa Suarez talks about her life as a career bartender
Drinker of the Month is an ongoing monthly series where we spotlight someone in the community who brings joy to our taste buds. Brewers, bartenders, distillers, sommeliers, restaurant owners, farmers and many others help us enjoy life just a little bit more every day. This is an ode to them. If you want to nominate someone (or yourself) to be the next Drinker of the Month, visit the Contact page and send in your suggestion.
Annalisa is one of three women officers in the accidentally women-only Reno chapter of United States Bartenders’ Guild and bartender at the Terrace Lounge in the Peppermill Casino. Born and raised in Reno, she started working in the food and beverage industry as a teenager at her parents’ restaurant, Tropics Cafe, and became a bartender when she turned 21.
Annalisa on the USBG – Reno Chapter
Annalisa Suarez: I’m the secretary with the USBG Reno Chapter so I put together a fan letter and get events ready with Nicole (Barker). We just did Chemistry of the Cocktail at the Discovery Museum. Six or seven of us donated our time. We were there from 11 a.m. to midnight. We all did it for charity, all our tips, everything went to charity. It’s one of the things we do with the USBG. One of our friends just got diagnosed with cancer and one night a week we give our tips to their cancer fund. We throw parties. We help support local distilleries.
Mike Higdon: So there’s three of you, Ilona (ih-LO-nuh), Nicole and you?
AS: Yah and we’re in the middle of doing a switch. We might have a new president and a new secretary. We’re doing USBG elections for the first time. Anyone who is a member can vote. We’ll vote then have a huge party in our third year being a chapter in Reno.
MH: Do most things USBG does end up as parties?
AS: Yes, mostly. But that’s the best part about it. When you pay your dues of $100 a year, you’re going to go out and party and make it up in one event in just that one night.
How to recognize a good drink and a good bar
MH: So what’s the right way to send a drink back? Do you ever send a drink back?
AS: Yeah, you can, but I don’t send drinks back. Sometimes Nicole will… I’ve worked in the industry since I was 14 so I try not to do that. I’ll look at the bartender when I walk in and listen to their shake and decide if I want to order something with fruit. If I see them stir stuff I know I’m going to get a Manhattan. I’ll look at their barware. If it’s no good, I’ll just get a beer.
MH: I’ve started looking at barware lately. Like at chapel I thought they had cheaky science crap but it turns out their beakers are special Japanese beakers. I thought they just knocked of the school supply store…
When bartending becomes a career
AS: My parents used to own their own restaurant when I was 13. It opened exactly seven days before September 11 and then it went downhill from there. My dad was an executive chef for 33 years. And my mom and grandma were in the industry too. I just wanted to work in it and applied at the Atlantis. Then I was a hostess at an Italian restaurant. Then I worked in the steakhouse hostessing. When I turned 21 they brought in a certified Mixologist from Florida and he only taught five of us how to mix classic cocktails. I was his barback for six months. It wasn’t like “Oh yeah, here you go this is how you do it, now you can be behind the bar.” I actually had to be a barback for six months to learn it all. I knew the 10 cocktails for what is now Bistro-Napa and learned basic stuff behind the bar like mojitos and lemon drops and all the stuff with fresh ingredients. After the Atlantis I applied at the Eldorado and then I was here.
MH: What made you want to stay in the industry after your parents’ restaurant closed?
AS: The money mostly. I really love different kinds of food and drinks and the flavors. When I was learning with Christian (January’s Drinker of the Month) at the Atlantis I helped fine tune my palette and found flavors in things that I didn’t know were there yet.
MH: Would you consider this a career?
AS: Yeah, definitely. I always want to go back to school and become a nurse or dental hygienist. I was in nursing when I was 18 and started going to school for that. But I just stayed in this business because it kept getting better and better for me with new opportunities and positions. But I love it, it’s what I do. My favorite part is when guests come in and say this is their favorite drink and this is why we always come here. I have guests follow me from everywhere. There’s people who live in the Montage or Del Monte and they drive up here to come see me and that’s really cool.
MH: You said there’s a lot of movement in the industry?
AS: I’m thinking about opening up my own place right now. If I don’t do it sooner than Nicole, which at this point isn’t going to happen, then I would like to help her out and get her place going. Hopefully after that I could do my own place. Being born and raised in Reno is great for that. I thought about moving to Vegas a few times. There’s a tequila company I work for that always tells me to move to Vegas but then something amazing always happens so I stay here.
MH: But you’d like to live in Vegas?
AS: NO. It’s the last place I want to live. LAST place. I know I’d make good money but I just can’t. It’s just too hot.
At the end of the interview, I issued Annalisa and the Peppermill a challenge: Make a cocktail menu exclusively out of regionally made spirits.
AS: We’ll do it. Anything with alcohol in it!
How To Make an Italian Tiki with Annalisa
- 1 oz Galliano
- 1 oz Lemon juice
- .5 oz Agave Nectar
- .5 oz Don Julio Reposado
- Splash St. George Raspberry Liqueur
- Angostura Bitters
- Lemon to garnish
Combine lemon, agave, tequila and Galliano. Shake with crushed ice. Add splash of St. George Raspberry Liqueur to final glass. Double strain shaker into the glass. Add ice to the glass. Garnish with lemon. Add bitters. Enjoy!
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