Since before it even broke ground it seems as if the buzz has been almost deafening about the new W Hotel opening downtown across the street from City Hall. Much has been written about this property hosting the new facilities for KLRU's beloved Austin City Limits program. And there has been much speculation about who would be doing the food & beverage amenities, including the now-defunct prospect of a non-sushi concept from Tyson Cole (TRACE is the restaurant, and features the cuisine of chef Paul Hargrove).
What has not been covered as thoroughly is the bar program, the menu for which was developed by Charlotte Voisey, who is the company mixologist for William Grant & Sons, and heads up their team of brand ambassadors.
Still fine-tuning the bar in the "Living Room". There is also a "secret" main bar and a restaurant bar
On the morning of last week's opening I had the opportunity to interview Charlotte about the W program specifically and about her cocktail philosophy in general. Originally from London, Voisey began to gain attention for her program at Apartment 195 and for winning UK Bartender of the Year. She moved to the US when offered the Hendrick's Gin ambassador position by William Grant. After spending four years in New York City, she moved to San Francisco, though spends most of her time on the road.
It is super exciting that we have a personality of this caliber working on a project in Austin. We talked for more than an hour but here are the highlights.
DA: Do you miss being behind the bar?
CV: I miss the energy of being behind the bar, in the groove, but not enough to make the lifestyle change, to jump back behind the bar--your whole pattern of life changes. I miss it, but I involve it enough in what I do to get my fix. I do enough events where I have to make drinks for several hours. It keeps you connected with the tools and ingredients you need to work with. It keeps your practical skills and empathy with bartenders in check.
DA: What is your creative process like?
CV: My kitchen is set up like a bar, but I'm only back there every week to ten days. But my Blackberry is my life, so I keep a running list of cocktail names, flavor profiles & ideas. When working on a new project, I think of how many cocktails there should be & what style--for example in Texas, you can't ignore the margarita, so we have several specialty Margaritas at the W.
Then I go back through my saved notes to see what ideas fit in, and I fill in the gaps.
Then it's a process of figuring out what would sound cool, interesting or comfortable. I don't want to exclude any groups of people, I want to make sure none of the drinks are intimidating--that's how you alienate people.
I always include one perfect, classic cocktail recipe on every menu. At the W, it's the Hotel Nacional, which is approachable and lovable, but has a story behind it, a credibility. Then many others are inspired by classics, which helps the bartenders find the right drink for each customer.
DA: When you were growing up, what career did you think you were going to pursue, and when did you realize you were an "industry" lifer?
CV: When I was little, I wanted to travel and be famous. So it's sort of worked out!
DA: What's your favorite other thing to do besides make cocktails?
CV: Skiing. I love to ski, I do it any chance I get. It's my best release. Not that I have much stress in my life at all, but it's the one thing I've found that I can do that takes my mind off everything else.
DA: What are you most excited about for 2011?
CV: I am excited to see more cocktail stuff on TV. It's the time, we have the right personalities and the right knowledge. I think the Food Network needs to make a bit of space for us. It's always at the end of the show, or it's the chef doing it. I've done a couple of segments on Top Chef Masters, etc, which is a good sign. We need to have our own show. It's the only way we'll start to reach the whole country. That's what I hope to see, and am most excited to be a part of. I think we're ready.