With the largest booze selection in Texas, exclusive house rules, and only one kind of vodka, we are sufficiently intrigued by Bar 1919. The speakeasy theme draws a mixed crowd of young professionals, local artists, cocktail enthusiasts and people just looking to have a good time. Luckily, we were able to talk to Stephan Mendez and get answers to our most pressing questions.
Q. What makes Bar 1919 stand out in the San Antonio bar scene?
A. We like to think that we push the envelope when coming up with our libations. We have a lot of seasonal menu changes and a lot of bartenders with different styles. We’re not an assembly line pumping out Jack and Cokes or Bud Lights for the masses.
Q. How would you describe Bar 1919 in one sentence?
A. Largest booze selection in Texas, along with some of the best cocktails in the country.
Q. We’ve read the house rules, what inspired them and why do you feel they are necessary? What impression do patrons have of them?
A. The guests love it and we absolutely have fun with it, while still keeping them enforced. Our regulars will actually tell someone to take a phone call outside before we even get a chance to.
Q. If you could suggest one original drink from Bar 1919 what would it be, and why?
A. It would have to be the True Azul. It’s a reposado tequila that’s infused with poblano, serrano, red and yellow bell peppers and we add crème de violet, honey, and fresh lime juice. Served in a coupe glass rimmed with a smoked sea salt… it’s going to make you try out other drinks to see just how far we can go.
Q. Rumor has it you only carry one type of vodka. What is it and why only one?
A. The one vodka we carry is Sobieski, a Polish rye vodka that was ranked #1 in 2007 by the BTI. Since vodka (by US law) is “to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color,” we decided we only needed to carry one quality, reasonably priced vodka for our customers.
Q. The booze selection at Bar 1919 is quite impressive. How do you take advantage of it?
A. We get to offer customers a drinking experience unlike any other bar. Most of our customers come in wanting to try something new. They can tell us what they usually drink and we can guide them down a path that opens them up to new spirits they never knew they would like. Customers come in with preconceived notions and we are able to educate and help them discover new products. We also have a hidden wooden door built along the wall that opens up to a private room where we have tastings on the 3rd Tuesday of every month.
Q. Do you have a favorite drink to make? Why are there certain drinks that you won’t make for patrons?
A. My favorite drink to make is a Sazerac, it’s also my favorite to drink. It’s a complex yet simple cocktail that if not made precisely, becomes unbalanced and unfavorable. I judge bartenders/bars on how they craft them.
We pride ourselves on our signature cocktails and our knowledge of classic cocktails. We don’t make drinks that are designed to just get customers intoxicated with no flavor or balance, like Long Islands, Jaeger bombs, or Kamikazes.
Q. Obviously you take a lot of pride in the Bartenders that work at Bar 1919. How have you found them, and what makes a great bartender?
A. Our bartenders were selected by our GM/Owner Don Marsh. A few were hand selected by him and a few bartenders found him. Each one took a lengthy written test created by Mr. Marsh to assess spirit and beer knowledge. A great bartender has to be able to balance service, speed, and knowledge to work at 1919. There is no point in having someone behind the bar who knows every classic cocktail in the world but talks down to every customer. You also can’t be the most hospitable person and not make a mean Manhattan.