Of all the bars in Houston, the one that I frequent the most is Johnny’s Gold Brick. I’ll stop in for a drink to avoid the evening traffic and next thing you know it's midnight, mainly because of the engaging and friendly bartenders, the monthly rotating cocktail menu, and the conversationalists that sit at the bar and are more than willing to wax poetic. One such bartender that has impressed me is Garrett Jones, who took the time to sit down and share his story.
What got you into the industry?
I got into the industry after playing music for five years; I had been traveling around playing live since I was 17. The band I was in wasn’t heading in the direction I wanted it to go and I said to myself that I needed to get a job, all the while trying to finish school. Essentially it’s everyone’s intro to the industry itself: I was in need of a job, went looking for it, and actually wound up being pretty good at it.
How was the transition going from being in a band to bartending?
I quit the band cold turkey—I simply walked away from it and jumped into bartending full-time. There was no on/off switch; I had originally gone to school for hotel and restaurant management, so the hospitality side of the business was ingrained in me. It was a natural switch.
How did you discover mixology?
The very first place that I worked was trying to be a craft cocktail bar/restaurant, but for some reason the craft cocktail scene wasn’t really needed in Katy. Once I turned 21, I was going to Anvil and other craft cocktail bars and I was really interested in the scene and in food in general. Back in my high school days I’d invite all my friends over and I would cook for them because I genuinely liked it; I was always the guy that made everyone drinks at parties. Through that, I learned that there was much more to pouring a drink than just mixing a spirit and a mixer.
What’s your specialty cocktail and what goes into it?
My specialty is the piña colada. I know that it's ludicrous to add lime juice to a colada, traditionally, but I like to add a quarter-ounce of lime juice to brighten things up a bit. So that’s my twist on the piña colada. I like to play around blending the rums; for someone who’s a little more adventurous, I’ll probably add some still strained cachaca and split it with a Jamaican rum that has a little more funk and an over-proof spirit too.
On the subject of piña colada, why do you think there’s a stigma to the drink?
Someone creating coconut cream led to the creation of the Piña Colada, so Coco Lopez created the piña colada. The drink has always been something that you could consider a basic drink, so anywhere you go there will always be coconut cream, pineapple, and rum, but you can add your own flair to it by adding good rum, making sure your ratios are right, and not giving someone something overly sweet. The stigma on the piña colada isn’t necessarily false, as it stems from something that was mass-produced, but also it’s craft cocktail-friendly because you get to alter it and change it up from time to time.
What are your favorite haunts when you’re off the clock?
I love Lei Low. It’s one of my favorites because of the super laid-back atmosphere and I’ve always been a “water baby.” I grew up in Matagorda—my family would go down there all the time—and we had boats and I ran fishing charters for a long time. So Lei Low feels like home. The tropical influence just takes me back to the water. One of the first exposures to the craft cocktail scene I got came from Moving Sidewalk. Shane Amador, who now works at Grand Prize, was one of the first that was in the craft cocktail scene that made me feel welcomed. Honestly, it took all the pretention away from the cocktail scene; it showed you could be just a regular dude that can hang out while making great drinks.
As far as the cocktail scene goes, is it more craft cocktail-heavy or more hospitality friendly?
I definitely think everyone’s starting to realize that they can’t all wear suspenders and ties and belittling people for what they order. It’s not how you go about making money and the whole reason we, bartenders, exist is that people want to feel safe and sort of like a second home. The last thing guests want to do is go somewhere, feel like they’re going to be judged for ordering something.
Is there an endgame in all this?
Yeah, my family runs this boutique garden center out in the Richmond/Rosenberg area. The whole reason I went to school for hotel and restaurant management is to start my own restaurant out there, something small like a coffee shop or a café, something to serve the guests while they’re walking about. Not being awake until 4 a.m. every night, that’s the goal.
It's the end of the world and you have one last drink on the earth, what are you having?
A Dark and Stormy. It’s a very chill cocktail–Black Strap Rum, ginger beer, and lime. Once, we were in San Marcos, before going to float the river, and I read an article about five drinks to have during the summer, so we made some jugs full of Dark and Stormy and it was delicious. The Dark and Stormy would be a good sendoff with good memories and nostalgia.