If STK in West Hollywood broke the barriers of the traditional steakhouse formula by losing it’s overly masculine vibe, then Nadia Underwood, the peppy gal behind STK’s see-and-be-seen bustling bar is doing the same for the stereotype of the often brooding mixologist. Underwood is like your favorite neighborhood bartender, only with a serious education in mixing alcohol. The easygoing Chicago native (and die hard Bears fan) thinks L.A. is all smiles behind the bar, as long as thirsty customers keep their cool. These things take time, after all.
How did you get into mixology? I had been bartending in clubs and bars in Chicago and soon after moving to L.A. I got hired at STK. There, I was taught under the bar program ran by Pablo Moix. He taught us the basics of mixology, classic cocktails, etc. I couldn’t believe what amazing cocktails I could now make.
What is the difference between a bartender and a mixologist? The difference is a bartender basically just pours drinks and a mixologist takes the time to make handcrafted cocktails using fresh ingredients with precision and creativity.
How do you come up with the name of your cocktails? I may sound like a nerd, but I feel like a cocktail has its own personality, so I try to capture that in its name. It could be based off a reaction a customer had the first time I create a cocktail, or inspired from a ingredient, or even a nickname of someone in my life.
What was your inspiration for the cocktail you created for Stoli? Summertime with a twist.
What’s your favorite go-to ingredient and why? Serrano pepper because I love spice and heat.
What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received as a mixologist? I was told by someone in the industry that I was among the top 5 mixologists in the country.
How do you know when a customer has ordered and received exactly the right cocktail? When they order their second one right away after receiving the first.
What’s your favorite part of the job? Most annoying part? My favorite part is making people happy with a delicious cocktail. What I hate most is when you are slammed at the bar and customers don’t understand it actually takes a little bit longer to make a handcrafted cocktail then just pour a whiskey and coke.
What does it take to be a great mixologist? Is it a God-given gift, or something you can learn? In order to be a great mixologist you have to be creative, charismatic, patient, educated and eager. I do think you can learn to be a mixologist, but I think how good you are depends on your creativity and talent.
How is your approach to mixology different from everybody else’s? I approach mixology with fun. To me it’s all about making people happy with a good drink and entertaining them. I feel like some other mixologists are too serious and almost nerdy about it. You will always see me with a smile on face.
Read more Midnight Mixologists interviews here.