AUSTIN, TX—Some might say that good bartenders are born, not made. The basics of the job—accurate pours, ingredient selection and good conversation—can go a long way, but it’s the subtle nuances that add flavor to the bar experience.
Shel Bourdon, the recently appointed national director of bars for Two Roads Hospitality, has an affinity for cocktail bars.
“I’m originally from San Diego and got my start in Los Angeles at a members-only speakeasy bar, which shied away from recognizable liquor brands and instead focused on the stories behind lesser-known distilleries and spirits,” she said. “It was here that I first fell in love with storytelling through craft cocktails and the ability to share something new and interesting with every single guest.”
Over the years, Bourdon has helped launch some of the country’s most celebrated bars, including Los Angeles’ The Tar Pit and Playa; Phoenix’s Blue Hound Kitchens and Cocktails; James Beard award finalist The Dead Rabbit in New York City; and Donna Cocktail Club in Brooklyn, NY. In her new role, she oversees all things beverage across Two Road Hospitality’s five brands—Thompson Hotels, Joie de Vivre Hotels, Destination Hotels & Resorts, Alila, and tommie.
“I’m responsible for developing bar programming and concepts, educating beverage teams and overseeing Two Roads Hospitality’s robust roster of bars, lounges and rooftop venues,” she said. “I’m on the road frequently and am always sure to go out to local bars and restaurants in each place I visit for work—not only because it’s my job, but because I love it. Community is a big piece of why I love this industry.”
In a Q&A with Hotel Business, Bourdon shares what’s trending in the world of cocktails and where the industry is headed in terms of offerings.
What’s your favorite cocktail of the moment? And, where do you like to drink it?
I’ve been spending a lot of time in San Francisco and our bar manager at Hotel Kabuki makes a Paloma variation called the Madame Chou with Altos Tequila, Mixwell Mohave Grapefruit soda, butterfly pea flower tea and fresh lime. It’s a beautifully vibrant purple drink that changes color when you introduce the acid from the lime. It is simple yet elegant, and refreshing to the last sip.
What do you see becoming noteworthy in terms of F&B?
In 2018 and beyond, we’re expecting a return to the basics with convenience, quality and hospitality at the forefront. Specific trends that I see are the use of biodegradable paper straws, convenience-driven and canned cocktails, the rise of Southern California beverage tourism, the implementation of the year-round spritz, and an increased visibility for harder to source spirits.
Do you see more cocktails becoming Instagram-worthy?
Many of our bars and restaurants manage their own social media pages to connect directly with their local communities. Food and beverage-centric content represents anywhere from 50-80% of our hotels’ overall content mix, and it’s by far one of our top performing content verticals.
Many of our properties are incorporating unique, large-format drinking vessels and shareable, photogenic setups to encourage the perfect shot, such as Thompson Seattle’s gorgeous copper Flamingo, a bubbly pink punch finished table side, or Hotel Kabuki’s tea-for-two menu highlighting cocktails crafted with high-quality teas from around the world.
How will local influences and/or flavors play a role in the cocktails we drink this year?
Our goal is always to run great neighborhood bars and restaurants that just so happen to be in a hotel. We want to welcome and engage the community just as much as we do our hotel guests—our visiting guests see that and want to be a part of the fun. We put a heavy emphasis on developing beverage experiences based on the surrounding market and community of a specific property.
In a similar vein, when making decisions on decor, we look at the location and history of the restaurant or bar, the story behind the building, local and regional inspirations, culinary influences and more before nailing down a specific design aesthetic.
The lobby bar at The Cape, our Thompson resort in Cabo San Lucas, is supposed to be a throwback to the classic bars and lounges of a bygone era in Acapulco, incorporating custom Mexican furniture and indigenous materials, whereas Cindy’s, the rooftop restaurant at Chicago Athletic Association, has an airy atmosphere reminiscent of a Great Lakes beach house. We approach each establishment through a local lens, as we know every city, neighborhood and street corner is distinctive, and we want people to leave feeling they experienced something that speaks to their surroundings and that can’t be found at every turn.
Do you see drinks becoming more health-focused? Are cocktails now the gateway to healthier living?
I think so. There is an increased awareness of what people are choosing to put in their bodies, and many health-focused trends like juicing and gluten-free are finding their way into the beverage space. Having collaborative chefs in our portfolio has also helped in expanding the produce selections and seasonal awareness in our bars. One of my favorite vegetable-driven cocktails comes from bar manager Chelsea Gregoire at our soon-to-open Hotel Revival in Baltimore. Her Root and Branch cocktail is a beautiful blend of aged cachaca, fresh-pressed carrot juice, lemon, Bruto Americano and a hopped honey syrup, using hops from a local Baltimore brewery we are partnering with on a custom brew.
With health-driven ingredients gaining mainstream attention, we have noticed an increase in the use of anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich ingredients such as turmeric, ginger and gut-healing kombucha as a gateway to healthier living.