For Carlie Steiner, a career in hospitality was basically a given: At 13, the Virginia Beach native started working as a busser in local seafood restaurants to earn her own money, and caught the industry bug quickly. “Probably around 15, I realized that I actually wanted to do this with my life,” she says. By 17, she was headed to the Culinary Institute of the Arts in New York, ready to jumpstart a career as a chef. “I wanted to be a kitchen rat and spend my days doing prep,” she says.
It wasn’t until just before graduation—when she applied to a position at José Andrés’ then-fledgling experimental D.C. cocktail bar barmini on a lark, and scored the gig—that Steiner realized she wanted to be behind the bar instead of in the kitchen. “I recognized that I was missing that outlet of communication and seeing that immediate gratification from guests that you get from front-of-house,” she says. “Bartending, for me, was a perfect combination of everything I loved to do.”
Though she was initially green on the cocktail front, Steiner says her kitchen experience proved useful at barmini. “I would come in with little helpful tasks you don’t learn as bartenders—like using a chinoise to strain something quickly,” she says. She looks back on her time there fondly: “Working for Jose Andres in D.C. at that time was so influential in my life,” she says. “He’s a very, very genuine, caring person, and you don’t find that often.”
After a couple of years spent traveling, running pop-up events and consulting at restaurants, Steiner linked up with chef Kevin Tien to open the Japanese-inspired restaurant Himitsu. There, her past experiences come to bear on her unique drinks, which often contain savory twists. “I get to use 50 percent of my classic cocktail theory education and 50 percent of my culinary education to produce the style of cocktail I produce now,” she says.
Daiquiris get a dose of umami from nori, while Manhattans are softened with amontillado sherry. “What I’m going for is simplicity, and thinking about cocktails the way that cooks think about mother sauces,” Steiner says. “First and foremost it’s about the flavor profile, and making sure they taste delicious.”
So, what is Carlie Steiner up to when she’s not dreaming up new flavor combinations? Here, she takes our Lookbook Questionnaire to share her weirdest hobby, her favorite bar, the one thing she wishes would disappear from drink menus and her favorite ways to work with Scotch, plus her recipe for the wintry Baransu cocktail.
Carlie Steiner Makes the Baransu
Current occupation: Co-owner and Beverage Director at Himitsu.
What do want to be when you grow up? A race car driver/restaurateur.
What’s your favorite classic Scotch cocktail? I love a well-made Rob Roy, and I love the variation Fitz Roy even more!
Tell us about your drink. This drink is meant to help you wind down and is perfect for this season. I curated it based on a scenario of cuddling near a fire with your partner or by yourself.
How do you think about developing a Scotch cocktail vs. one that uses rye or bourbon? What are your key tips to keep in mind? I think it’s important to remember the complexity of the spirit you are working with—that it’s not about adding too much, but rather adding just enough to let the aromatics and palate of the Scotch shine.
Best thing you ever drank: Whole milk.
Worst thing you ever drank: Skim milk.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted: I can’t say I have ever tried something crazy enough to write about, but I do remember when “meat ice” was trending and I did “try that at home.”
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making? Buying plants, exploring the corners of museums and being gay AF.
If you had to listen to one album on loop for the rest of your life, what would it be? Savage Garden, Truly Madly Deeply.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had? Buying mini-dinosaurs from Amazon; creating puns for other people to send their Tinder matches.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago? How to do my taxes.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten: “Can I get a Daiquiri without sugar?”
Your favorite bar, and why: The bar at Red Hen—they always make me feel at home.
Best meal you’ve ever had: Every second dinner I’ve ever had.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar? I’m always down for a buck-style cocktail.
Wine bar? Anything esoteric or Mosel riesling.
Dive bar? Rum and Coke for a little boost of energy.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever: Prices.
The last text message you sent: JAJAJAJAJAJA