This is the Barkeepers, a feature in which Eater meets the fine ladies and gentlemen behind the bar at some of Portland's hottest cocktail parlors.
Angel Teta grew up immersed in the restaurant industry, working at an early age for the family business chopping lettuce and answering phones. As an adult, she was a bartender in Daytona Beach, Florida, but she quickly grew tired of the beach scene, which consisted mainly of popping beers and serving Jello shots. When Teta moved to Portland seven years ago, she decided to create a bartending career for herself, and that started with learning the city. "I made it my job to literally eat and drink all of Portland," Teta recalls. "I was living in Beaverton at the time, so sometimes it was a cab ride home, but I would go to Teardrop and Clyde Common and I'd just sit and watch."
Teta volunteered for the Oregon Bartenders Guild and Portland Cocktail Week: "I ran around doing all the stuff that nobody else wanted to do, which was fine, I was just so happy to be in front of these people," she says. After a long stint bartending at Three Degrees, the RiverPlace Hotel bar, she moved on to be a part of the killer team at the Spanish tapas spot, Ataula, which just received a runner up spot in the Oregonian's Best New Restaurants for 2014. Eater caught up with Teta to chat about working with chef Jose Chesa, the insane amounts of sangria served at Ataula, the nerdiness of "barchitecture," and why alcohol and pills are just not a good combination for anyone, ever.
When is the busiest time here?
We are probably the busiest from like 6p.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday unitl 9:30. The busiest time is probably like 7:45 for whatever reason — people come in and they need drinks. And when we get slammed, we get slammed all at once. That's the only time I'm ever freaking out, and I try not to freak out.
What's your method for getting through that freak out time?
It's a pretty open bar, so it's really easy to see the whole room. I quickly scan my bar, it's pretty easy to see who has a drink and who doesn't. They are my first priority. Then I scan my tickets and find the cocktails that need to be made. Not wine or beer, because the servers can do that themselves. We're a shared house, so the more money they make, the more money I make; the happier you are, the happier I am, and the happier the customer is. So I just focus on the cocktails and bang them all out.
It's also all about my well, everything is in the same place every day. My friend and I call it "barchitecture." It's really dorky, but you want to work in circles where you never have to reach further than one step, two steps. Everything you need the most is closest, it's just certain nerdiness, and it really makes your job much more fluid. So when you are in the shit, you're okay. You can grab Campari without even looking for it.
What's the most popular drink order?
We do sangria by the liter. And we go through it so fast. I'll easily go through four to six liters within two hours of service — which is a lot. There's about eight glasses in a liter, so that's 50 glasses in two hours. Also, our gin and tonics. We do two, because gin and tonics are pretty huge. One is with the natural cinchona-bark, and people are mystified by the color and everything, but it has great texture that they just love. And then I'm doing one with fresh seasonal flowers, where I pour Spanish tonic water down the spoon and there's juniper berries in a traditional big globe goblet.
Do you enjoy working with chef Jose Chesa?
He is literally the best chef I've ever worked with in my entire life, and I've been in restaurants with my family since I was eight. I'd much rather work with him than my uncle. He's smart; he's fast; and he and I think on the same level, like "hustle, hustle, hustle," but thoughtfully. You don't send that plate out if it's not ready; you don't send that drink out if it's not garnished. He does such great things with his food, I would feel kind of like an asshole if I didn't try that with my drinks.
Did you know much about Spanish food and drinks before working here?
No, I asked Jose everything, ever. Like how to pronounce stuff — from even the dumbest thing, to the most important. I didn't know a lot. I read a ton, and I haven't gone to Spain, yet. I'm really intrigued by vermouth, and I always have been. I had no idea Spaniards made so many delicious vermouths. In Spain, they have vermouth on tap, and that's something I would like to do in the future here at Ataula. We'd love to do that, and do it right.
Jose sous vides a lot of products to marinate them all together evenly and consistently. So I started doing that for the brandy in the sangria right off the bat. It's oranges, apples, all the peels, and cinnamon sticks vacuum sealed and then cooked for an hour. It just infuses everything accurately, because it's weighed every time. Infusing stuff was like really cool six years ago, but sous vide is so much easier to do and it doesn't change colors or anything like that.
Do you have a lot of regulars?
Yes, but I have two regulars in particular that used to come into Three Degrees all the time. They are amazing people, like the nicest couple in the entire world, and they take care of me like I'm their own child — I swear to God. They come in to Ataula now, and bring people here all the time.
How about celebrities?
We get the tall basketball dudes, I don't know what his name is… [Laughs] He's a Blazer and he's Spanish. [Ed note: This might be Victor Claver.] He comes in all the time. And we get a lot of chefs. I feel like every great chef in Portland has been here, so far.
Congrats on your win in Seattle at Speedrack this year, was that a fun competition?
Speedrack is super fun. It's awesome. I don't know how I'm able to pull it off every year. But I really want to see more girls next year from Portland, there wasn't enough this year. I've done it for the past two years, I lost in the final to Lacey who won it all the year before, and she's fucking rad. It's about preparing. I prepared pretty hard for the prelims, I didn't prepare that much for the actual competition. I should have.
Do you have any good cut-off stories to share from your years in the industry?
There was this one lady at the hotel, I had to put her in a freaking wheelchair to get her out to the car. Someone else was driving. It was a lady in her 50s, came in, they'd had dinner out somewhere, they were dressed up really nice, and she ordered a glass of wine. She was talking to me and said she was from Texas, she seemed totally fine. I poured her a second glass of wine. Then two seconds later she was literally face down on the bar. We couldn't wake her up, like she must of been on pills or something. It was crazy. In Florida I used to have to cut people off like in a nasty way, like really bad. I don't know what it is about the sunshine that makes people absolutely out of their mind, but it happened all the time. Here, it's not like that. It's great, I get out of work at like 11p.m. or midnight every night, I can still go to Rum Club. [Laughs]
So is that where we'll find you on a day off then?
Yeah, Rum Club is my jam. Michael Shea and I have been friends for a long time. I used to go in when he'd just started, and it's so cool to see what it's become. I also really love this place called Pinky's — which nobody goes to — but it's cool. It's this guy and his wife and they are the sweetest friggin' people. She's tiny and super cute and he's a super tall dude from Idaho. They make pizza at night and they have great boiled bagels during the day. And it's great pizza until like 2:30 in the morning, and I'm a pizza snob. But he also has a deep-ass back bar, like 65 tequilas and 50 something whiskeys.
What would you say is the most important barkeeper tool?
For me, it's my smile. If I'm not smiling, people are like, "What's wrong with you?" So they really notice. And just patience, and don't be mean to people, I don't understand that. Also, just knowing your craft and knowing where you are at all times is really important.
· All Previous Ataula Coverage [Eater PDX]
· All Previous Barkeepers Coverage [Eater PDX]