With a resume spanning nearly two decades, Erick Castro has worked in just about every part of the industry. Having first made a name for himself at San Francisco’s Bourbon & Branch and Rickhouse, he went on to work as a Brand Ambassador for Plymouth and Beefeater in 2011, having been recruited by Simon Ford.
After leaving his post, he moved to San Diego, where he opened Polite Provisions in 2013; the following year, he collaborated with the team behind Cocktail Kingdom on the opening of New York’s Boilermaker. But more recently, his work has taken him out from behind the bar. Not only did Castro launch an online series, Bartender at Large (which has since been turned into a documentary), he co-founded Simple Serve, a trade-focused marketing agency. That latter initiative has since resulted in the annual Bartender’s Weekend, a three-day industry-only networking event, the proceeds from which are donated to Inspire Artistic Minds, which provides educational opportunities and scholarships for next-generation bartenders.
Castro In Three Drinks
So what does Castro do when he’s not bartending, developing a better Piña Colada or consulting on new projects? Here, he tackles our Lookbook Questionnaire to share the first time he got drunk, his favorite bar in the world and the one thing he wishes would disappear from drink lists forever.
Host, Bartender at Large; Proprietor, Polite Provisions; Proprietor, Boilermaker; Partner, Simple Serve; Co-Founder, Bartender’s Weekend.
What do want to be when you grow up?
I want to be able to look back at my career and be able to say that what I did my helped make a positive impact on my team and the people that I brought up with me. If I can’t have that, I would settle for being an astronaut.
Best thing you ever drank:
As a baby I thought breast milk was the greatest thing that I had ever tasted, but to be fair I didn’t have much else in terms of reference.
Worst thing you ever drank:
In 2010, my friend Charles Joly poured me a shot of Malort, and I only just recently forgave him.
First time you ever got drunk:
At a bonfire in my hometown of Hemet, California. Back then, as I assume is still the case today, the local kids would light big bonfires out in the middle of nowhere and engage in all sorts of illicit activities. Everything from booze, fistfights, premarital sex and various contraband were generally on offer. If I remember correctly—which there is a strong chance that I don’t—I drank a few too many Coors Lights that night, and ended up passing out in the back of my buddy’s pick-up.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Would silence be an option instead?
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
I don’t know if this qualifies as weird, but I am obsessed with making playlists that I never actually end up listening to.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
Considering that bartending is so centered around being outgoing and social, I think it would be surprising to a lot to of people to find that many of us are intensely introverted when off the clock. I have become adamant about reserving time for self to refresh and rest.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
A drink I made a while back that was served in an empty soy sauce bottle. The ingredients were Japanese whisky (fat-washed and sous vide with sesame oil), Madeira, ginger liqueur and barrel-aged soy sauce.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
I once had a customer come in on a busy Friday night and order a Plaid Monkey. I told her that I didn’t know how to make one and she became annoyed. I apologized to the guest and told her that I didn’t know the recipe, but would do my best to make her something similar. She then she would have been surprised if I knew how to make it, because she herself had just invented the drink the night before.
Your favorite bar, and why:
Turf Club in San Diego. It’s essentially a bar with a flaming grill in the middle, and every dish you order is raw. So, when you order your steak, you take your food to the grill and cook it yourself while you sip on your beer or Manhattan.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
Without question one of my absolute favorite places to eat is down in Puerto Nuevo. It is a little fishing town about 40 miles south of San Diego, a short way into Mexico. Down there you can get a couple of lobster tails, beans, rice and homemade tortillas for about $20.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
I generally do my best to try and order a cocktail off of their list. But sometimes, all I want is a Negroni or Old-Fashioned, and when that is what I am in the mood for there’s no changing my mind.
Nine times out of 10, I will head straight for the Champagne.
In a dive bar?
Bottled beer. It is the only thing that I can pretty much guarantee is clean enough to drink out of.
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
While nothing except for time can truly [cure] a hangover, the next best thing has got to be a big hot bowl of menudo with all the fixings and an ice-cold Michelada.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
Intentionally confusing language on menus is a plague on our industry that I can only dream will one day disappear. If a drink has a pinch of sea salt in it, just write “sea salt.” If you write “sodium chloride” or “housemade saline concoction,” you just look like an asshole.
The last text message you sent:
“Let’s just do them both unsalted. We can always add salt. But maybe let’s do one with brown butter and one regular butter.”