Danny Louie is a creative and mellow force known for his work at The Alembic where he is the Bar Manager. Louie is a San Francisco native and lives in Dogpatch with his wife Lisa Louie, a makeup artist & wardrobe stylist. The couple have two cats: Mao & Django.
Danny says he was raised in an inspirational and innovative environment. His family immigrated from China -- his mother was a seamstress and his father was a bartender and chef. His initial career path focused on pursuing fashion and interior design but he became interested in the food and beverage industry once he started working at the Hotel Sofitel in Redwood Shores. As the head bartender he was able to delve into the craft and history of cocktail making. In 2008 Danny helped open two restaurant hot spots in San Francisco: Dosa & Prospect. He then found a home at The Alembic.
He also teamed up with Ethan Terry, Brandon Josie & Tim Zohn to form Cocktail Lab, a collaboration between bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts focused on bringing together interactive and innovative cocktail techniques and ideas. Danny was also involved in designing the beverage program for the Stag Dining Group, an underground pop-up. In 2011 he cofounded Tomkat Asian Street food truck. Bay Area Bites caught up with Danny recently and his comments have been edited for length and clarity.
Bay Area Bites: You have a background in design via fashion and home décor and your father was a bartender and chef here in the Bay Area. How does that creativity come into play at work and in your life?
Louie: I approach everything I do, be it at work or play, with a vision of how it will play out. I see it before it materializes and that is my creative process. My upbringing and surroundings heavily influenced my approach to life. That rich cultural tapestry is present in my work. In my building of a cocktail I envision an entire sensory experience: flavor combinations, texture, temperature, as well as experiences and memories.
Bay Area Bites: Do you have any tips handed down from your folks or your wife Lisa?
Louie: The greatest advice I have gotten from my parents and strangely it is the same from my wife, is to keep an open mind, to slow down and appreciate all of the "little" influences around you. You should observe and then make it your own.
Bay Area Bites: This year marked a change at Alembic since Daniel Hyatt left. Working with Ethan Terry you were able to add your own personal touch and service style to the cocktail menu. What has that process been like for you as a bartender and manager?
Louie:I am doing what I've always dreamed I could do here. I was fortunate to work under Daniel Hyatt and it was an immense learning experience. And now I am able to create the cocktail menu and to work alongside an influential talent and friend, Ethan Terry--we are able to carry on the unique experience that is Alembic. I am truly blessed to be able to put my signature on such a legendary endeavor.
Bay Area Bites: Where is the Bay Area when it comes to appreciating the craft and history of cocktails?
Louie: The Bay Area has been somewhat in the drivers seat of the movement. For years. We in the local industry strive to maintain the integrity of the craft through exposure in education and having such a tightly knit family.
Bay Area Bites: You created the beverage program for Stag Dining Group, an underground pop-up. In 2011 you co-founded Tomkat Asian Street Food truck. How do you juggle so many creative endeavors and what has the pop-up and food truck scene been like for you?
Louie: I always needed to keep moving forward and shifting gears to stay interested. The juggling of several projects feeds my need for flux. The food truck scene was a great way for me to be involved in my love of cooking. The pop-up bars are a fun and effective way to gain exposure for the cocktail craft. They offer the opportunity to pair cocktails with food and to play them off of each other.
Bay Area Bites: What are your favorite drinks to make these days?
Louie: Anything that has a proof of 80+.
Bay Area Bites: What ingredients are you most passionate about today for drinks and why?
Louie: Currently, I am really into tea-based cocktails served in teapots. It is also my current passion as an ingredient. I love that it is a flexible and complex starting point for either high or low alcohol-based drinks.
Bay Area Bites: Where do you go for inspiration?
Louie: My wife and I like to play tourist on our days off. We frequent the Beach, Fort Mason, Aquatic Park, Chinatown and Sutro Heights. People watching, art museums and the opera offer great sources of inspiration as well. We also take a yearly trek to Mexico which is where I also find much of my inspiration.
Bay Area Bites: What does it take to make a great bartender? Any advice for someone starting out?
Louie: Understand the true meaning of hospitality then everything else will come in time. Have an open mind and an open palate.
Cocktail Recipe: Vasco da Gama
- 2 oz Buffalo Trace Bourbon
- 3/4 oz garam masala spiced apple syrup*
- 1/4 oz Caol Ila 12 year single malt scotch whisky
Build in glass / 4 ice cubes / stir / garnish apple chip
Recipe: *Garam Masala Spiced Apple Syrup
- 2 tablespoons coriander
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 2 cardamom pods
- 2 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 2 teaspoons black peppercorn
- 1 teaspoon cloves
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 red chili
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 cups apple cider
- 1 1/2 cups turbinado sugar
- Toast all spices over low heat until fragrant.
- Add 3 cups apple cider and bring to a boil.
- Add sugar and simmer for 30 minutes
- Let cool and strain before using.