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Danny Valdez

Features, Musings


May 27, 2011

The Mixfits Manifesto

The Mixfits is a band of like-minded bartenders that believe very strongly in using quality and fresh ingredients, proper technique and methodology. We honor our craft daily and will fight against the ego that has overcome our profession. In the process we will put the focus back on hospitality and guest service. As well, we are dedicated to giving back to our communities through charity events and outreach.
The following open letter to bartenders pretty much sums it up:

Dear Mr. or Ms. Bartender,
I respect that you have talent. But, please wait until I ask about it before you start talking about how many bitters or tinctures you make (I may not ask) before you expound on it in extreme detail…Get off of your mixological high horse and be a bartender first.

Donning a vest will not make you a great bartender; it’s the heart and soul behind the vest that will define you. Reading cocktail books (though it doesn’t hurt) will not make you a great bartender, reading people will. Entertain. Smile. Make me and your other guests smile. Know about current events, sports, etc. Be a great conversationalist. Pour a great drink with fresh and quality ingredients, but don’t boast about it (that’s like patting yourself on the back for waking up in the morning. It’s what we are supposed to do).

The show is not about us bartenders, but about our guests. In the last few years the industry focus has put the spotlight on us, we need to return that spotlight to our guests or this amazing emergence that our craft has enjoyed will become a short lived fad. The nobility in our profession derives from the fact that we take great pride in serving people for a living. So, do it well. Honor our craft.

We, The Mixfits, will be your police, your regulators, the ones who will hold you accountable and make you feel like a fool for thinking yourself a rock star. We will make sure that we and our craft move forward; with or without you.

Truly, we prefer that you buy in to what we are saying, we need you all on board…



July 19, 2010

Preserve New Orleans, Tip Big, Help The Dedicated Army Of Hospitality Industry Employees
By Danny Valdez

The fishermen will be fine. There is an immense source of money going to them, if not now, in the future. I love the passion people have in helping out the region, and especially New Orleans. I just think that the effort needs some redirecting. I won’t bore you to death with all of the details on the horrible repercussions of “the Deepwater Horizon.” You have all been bludgeoned to death with all of the details because of our overly connected society. Which on a side note, I and tons of ADD kids love by the way.

We are overlooking something very important. There is a small but dedicated army of waiters/bartenders/cooks/etc who sell the fish coming from the gulf. We cannot forget them. We found out the hard way that the talent pool in the city is hard to replenish in all facets. I know that the service industry has always been, to some, a way to bridge their life’s choices. Whether transitioning from college or jobs or making extra money while they chase their dreams. To others this is and always will be their lives. They live and breathe to serve people. Unfortunately there isn’t much money in it for the most part. Terms like “nest egg” or “savings” don’t become second nature until later in their careers. To most they learn it too late.

In the immediate aftermath of the spill, I went to work and saw this horrible look in the eyes of my coworkers. I moonlight at a popular New Orleans restaurant for brunch. Nothing fancy, just mostly a bunch of career waiters who get off on making people smile by sharing tradition. Unfortunately most of them don’t make much money at all. The look I saw was horrible because it was a look of a person who has lost one too many times. Everyone had the same look. It was a look of uncertainty. As a city and as a community we were just starting to get our “swagger” back.

To some of us the “big reset” back in 2005 was a way to fight and start anew. To others it was a long fight that brought nothing but pain and hardship. To the career waiters/cooks/bartenders it meant working harder and longer for less money. The city’s people had been beaten one too many times and that’s what this is about. Health insurance is prohibitively expensive. Homeowner’s insurance is raised every year. It has become harder for the army in “black and whites” to make a living. Those who couldn’t keep fighting the fight have left. The jaded and clueless still pepper the industry. But for every person who fits those descriptions, there are ten who care and will remain.

I think instead of raising money for fishermen, we should start raising money for the service industry. If you think of unemployment and collecting “food stamps” as a relief, I think you have wasted your time by reading this far. I wrote a book years ago titled,”The City of Lost Dreams.” It was a celebration of our different culture in New Orleans. Not of the obvious, but of the lives of the “black and whites” and handling the velvet rope. About the decadent youthful lifestyle which once was. It was about living paycheck to paycheck yet living the life of celebrity. To some it hasn’t changed much. Except the money is less, rents have tripled and the atmosphere has become a touch more gloomy. Although this extreme makes up a small portion of our workforce, it is a perfect example of how our city gives us a chance to live life to its fullest.

We can’t make people more responsible. Part of what this city offers is an escape from the real structured world. There is still money and success to be had. Love and hate is still an option. I don’t want to change any of it. I would just like to have more help for those who have chosen this profession.

So here’s a call to help preserve what we call New Orleans. Without the people weaving magical tales/food/etc there would be no soul. I speak not for the wealthy, even though some always find a way to get a cut, but for the working classes of all ages behind the curtain. Let’s keep the skilled working and city smiling. In a corrupt city where tourism is the only industry, we need to help maintain the morale. Tip big and trust me, the fishermen will be fine.



July 5, 2010

An INSIDE Look At One Of The Manhattan Cocktail Classic’s Most Talked About Events
By Francine Cohen Photos Courtesy of Moët Hennessy USA (unless otherwise noted)

Photo by Charles Steadman

As is often the case, we find ourselves in the right place at the right time. This time it was at Louis649 ( on a sunny winter afternoon. Tippling Point partner Jason Littrell was there and eager to share what he thought was a pretty nifty idea…a plan for a boat cruise to take place during the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. Great idea (we thought). Sounds like fun (we said). Little did we know then what we know now – that the Three Hour Tour would become the most coveted ticket for an off-site event during the Manhattan Cocktail Classic (, and an event still talked about months later. Though we should have known. Thank goodness we immediately secured ourselves a ticket before the planning got underway for real.

Planning the Three Hour Tour was no small feat for Littrell and his partners Tad Carducci, Paul Tanguay, and Gianfranco Verga. Sure, this is a band of bartenders who have put together quite a number of memorable parties on their own, but not usually something like this with a handful of the nation’s best bartenders pitching in, and at sea no less. Fortunately, for all involved, their maiden voyage as a newly formed events consultantancy was smooth sailing (sorry, couldn’t help that one).

Photo courtesy of MHUSA

Littrell comments on how he first came up with the idea saying, “I knew Lesley [Townsend – Founder of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic] was putting things together and saw that there was an opportunity to have events offsite. I’ve done parties outside festivals before but I had never been to a cocktail event on a boat. The idea for the cruise just came to me. The concept was sort of like how I approach drinks; a lot of times I’ll come up with a name first and build a drink around it.”

This boat cruise around the isle of Manhattan built around a “blue sky” idea got its sea legs when Moët Hennessy USA (MHUSA – and the Tippling Point came together. Littrell says, “We all put it together; I had this idea for this cheeky event and they had skill sets I didn’t have.” Tanguay adds, “Basically Jason came up with the idea – they approached us to see if we wanted to get involved. That’s how Tippling Point was born and now we’re running with this event side concept. Putting new parties together if you will and approaching spirits companies to partner.”

The original idea for the cruise was based on a Gilligan’s Island theme, but partnering with one of the most prestigious spirits companies changed the tone of the event as Littrell reflects, “It’s hard to get dollars from a luxury brand to do something down market. We wanted to put something cohesive together Continue Reading…


Turning Japanese

May 14, 2010

East Meets West At The Bar With Uyeda-San
By Jason Littrell
All photos courtesy of Lush Life Productions

Over the course of two days I was side by side with some of the greatest cocktail minds in the country who sat quietly in the Hiro Ballroom in the Maritime Hotel ( These bartenders, mixologists, writers, scientists and all around mega-nerds surrounding me all came to check out the cocktail master himself, Kazuo Uyeda from Ginza, Japan, owner of the Tender Bar, and learn the famed Hard Shake from the man who had created it.

Uyeda-san’s visit to New York, courtesy of Greg Boehm’s Cocktail Kingdom (, Beefeater Gin (, Suntory Whiskeys ( and Smirnoff Vodka (, drew this collection of America’s brightest drinks practitioners together in anticipation of learning the precise ways of Japanese bartending from this internationally known cocktail-zilla who has spent the last 45 years behind the bar perfecting the art of cocktail deliciousness – his ultimate goal. We didn’t know it then, but an eye-opening cultural exchange was about to take place.

Over those two days we sat listened, percolated, drank, and laughed with this man who has spent the last four decades perfecting his craft. The style he taught us was as specific, detailed, exacting and considerate as the Japanese tea ceremony or the hand-crafted Samurai sword. To the drop, and in absolute detail, he explained the minutiae of every element of his cocktail execution.

That first morning I was introduced to Uyeda-san’s concept of executing cocktail perfection. He discussed the intrinsic and philosophical elements of his style that are embodied by drink after drink being delivered with the same stance, same shake, same pour, and same snapping wrist motion that releases the last drop from the shaker. His decades of research and experimentation have been driven towards a singular goal: the pursuit of perfection and deliciousness.

He first discussed the “Japanese Mindset” which introduced me to the idea of putting your mind into your cocktail. This was interesting in the respect that the process was the product. The concept of creating the anticipation with your guest was something I tried to picture myself doing, with little immediate success. This, he explained takes time and “training yourself to concentrate.” He went on to explain that one’s technique and performance are a direct expression of one’s self. Now, I always knew Continue Reading…



April 16, 2010

The Skipper and Mary Ann were just a warm up act for this boat cruise taking you around the world in five cocktails.
By Francine Cohen

On May 16th, from 6-9 pm. The Manhattan Cocktail Classic’s Three Hour Cruise is sure to be a once in a lifetime seaborne event where guests have the opportunity to see the world through five cocktails.

Presented by Moët Hennessy USA, and the Tippling Point, The Three Hour Tour was created by noted NYC bartenders, Jason Littrell of Death & Company and Dram, and Louis 649 bartender/manager Gianfranco Verga on a boat that sets sail for a sunset cruise tailored expressly for this country’s committed drinkerati.

While the ship is running on diesel, this party will be fueled by stunning cocktails from some of the nation’s most accomplished bartenders including:
Richard Boccato (Painkiller/Dutch Kills, NYC)
John Lermayer (The Florida Room, Miami)
Jacqueline Patterson (Heaven’s Dog, San Francisco)
Continue Reading…