While tending bar and playing rugby aren’t exactly parallel pursuits, Caitlin Laman is able to identify at least one major similarity between her chief athletic love and her current vocation. “Masochism is involved in both,” says the Ace Hotel Chicago beverage manager, a well-traveled student athlete turned professional drink-maker who logged time behind the bar in New York, California and Mexico before landing in the Midwest.
Originally from Portland, Oregon, Laman moved to Boston to play rugby and major in business at Babson College. There, she juggled her on-pitch duties with her studies and her first-ever bartending job at the Foggy Goggle on Bolyston Street. After graduating with a degree in Business Administration, Laman moved south to play for the New York Rugby Club, while moonlighting at a number of NYC bars and restaurants, including Dirty Precious in Gowanus, Brooklyn.
In 2009, Laman headed back west to open Trick Dog in San Francisco. She helped the Mission District bar earn numerous accolades, including a “Best Bar Team” award at 2014’s Tales of the Cocktail; placements on Drinks International’s “World’s 50 Best Bars” list in 2014 and 2015; and a James Beard finalist nod for “Outstanding Bar Program” in 2015. She was also named Food & Wine’s “Best New Mixologist” and the national Speed Rack champion in 2014.
Laman consulted at Mexico City’s lauded Licorería Limantour before settling into her current role at Ace Hotel Chicago, which sees her designing drinks for on-site establishments City Mouse and Waydown, plus contributing to the Ace’s overall approach to food-and-beverage. Her current passion is advocating for diversity and inclusivity throughout the bar industry, a challenge she tackles via initiatives like Chicago Style, a “forward-thinking cocktail conference” Laman co-founded in 2018.
So what does Laman do when she isn’t busy comparing rugby to bartending or organizing big events? Here, she tackles our Lookbook Questionnaire to tell us about drinking bad gin when she was a kid, how clowns inspired her to pick up an interesting hobby and a really great bottle of sherry she had once. —Drew Lazor
Beverage director, Ace Hotel Chicago.
What do want to be when you grow up?
An astronaut bartender.
Best thing you ever drank:
An 80-year-old bottle of Oloroso sherry. I was at the wrap party for Sherryfest 2015 in New York with founders Peter Liem and Rosemary Gray and production team members Siu Ki Wan and Sarah Bray. We did a party at Racine’s where people brought rare and special bottles, and this was one of them. It tasted like nothing I had ever tasted—dark and inky and some crazy integrated sweetness. The levels of acidity left in a bottle that old were absolutely stunning.
Worst thing you ever drank:
Probably a really shitty drink I made in an attempt to make something good.
First time you ever got drunk:
Eleven years old. Drank too much of a bottle of what I have to assume was not very good gin.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Stevie Wonder, Innervisions.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
I rode a unicycle when I was a kid. I really liked clowns when I was young, so maybe I saw one of them doing it.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
That you will figure out what you want in life.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
Peanut Butter & Jelly Punch. I was at Trick Dog and someone hired me to do the cocktail for a special event. It was their request, so I made the attempt. It didn’t clarify as much as I wanted it to, but it tasted pretty damn good.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
Play cards with my girlfriend. We love Cribbage, Texas Hold ‘Em and Spite & Malice. We are competitive in all of them and she is better than me at most.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
Every time I think something is bizarre I inevitably get asked for it again, so I have to question my own opinions on what strange is.
Your favorite bar, and why:
Trick Dog. I still have best friends and great memories there.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
Pepperoni pizza and a ricotta calzone from Lucali’s in Brooklyn.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
An Americano. I like to judge places on their sweet vermouth of choice.
A red from Jura.
In a dive bar?
An IPA or a pilsner.
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
Preferably I am in Mexico and have some al pastor tacos. That is the best cure I have encountered. But wherever I am, a ‘chelada in the early afternoon usually does the trick.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
Overpriced cocktails. If a cocktail is going to be $16, it better have some really nice booze in it.
The last text message you sent: