Next in Line
Next in Line: Bourbon expert Larry Miller crafts the classics at Péché
Editor's note: As Austin continues to grow and thrive as a culinary epicenter, we’ve started to see certain big name chefs grow to demi-god celebrity status. But in kitchens, bars and restaurants across the city, there is so much more talent that often goes unrecognized. Next in Line is a monthly column celebrating back of the house heroes who might just be the next household name.
Name: Larry Miller
Position: Bar Manager
Hometown: I kinda grew up on the East Coast. I was born in Albany, New York. I lived in Tampa, Florida, went to high school in College Park, Georgia — with Outkast kids and Goodie Mobb and all those talented people from around there. Then I moved in Texas in 1992.
How did you end up in Austin? My aunt moved to Georgia and we followed her there. Then my mom got remarried and divorced, so when my aunt moved to Texas, we followed her here. And I fell in love with Austin after being here for a couple years.
What first attracted you to bartending? I went to school for architecture and design because I was always in love with architecture. I was doing that for a while and I just got really bored with sitting in an office. So I went and did something else; I was a truck driver! I just found that to be more fun — exploring Texas. I ended up driving all over the state for about five or six years and I learned everything there is to know about Texas and driving. I had more interest meeting people and being in sales than sitting in an office and drawing, even though I probably could’ve gotten more accolades for designing buildings ... but I just like talking to people.
I was actually really interested in cooking first. I went to work at The Belmont and, in order to work my way into the kitchen, I got started as a door guy. I saw how much the bartenders were bringing home and I was like, “I wanna do that!” So I just worked my way up.
What do you love most about bartending? I found myself at home with the way a bar operates and the speed at which it runs, and the precision when it comes to crafting cocktails. It’s fun and you’re entertaining people. Before, I loved entertaining people with food, and now I’m entertaining people with both cocktails and food.
What was your first bar job? I started at The Belmont in 2007 and I used to work at this sports bar called Upper Decks. Now I’ve been here [Péché] for three years.
What bartenders have been your biggest inspiration along the way? Some of the first guys that I learned from at The Belmont; those guys were some of the fastest bartenders I ever saw. So they taught me how to move behind the bar and how to have speed. I worked with one guy, his name was Jason Odom, and he was a Vegas bartender. We worked one shift. It was the Red Bull party at The Belmont during SXSW and we were 10-deep for about eight hours and I never saw anyone move that fast. He rang $10,000 in eight hours by himself. I rang $7,000 — that’s how much faster he was than me!
And then when I came to Péché, I was inspired by Justin Elliot and Dwayne Clark, and those guys just taught me how to really work on the craft side. They inspired me to learn everything there is about spirits and classic cocktails. They taught me that, if you learn your history, it helps you with creating things in the future.
What’s your favorite music to listen to while tending bar? Yeah, you know, I like EDM. I like techno. Electronic music is my thing. So if I ever get a chance to bartend with that, you will see me move like lightning. And it does happen every once in a while if you come here late enough. You turn the lights down and it gets a little fun in here.
What’s your favorite thing to drink? I’m a bourbon guy. I’m known as the bourbon expert. So I love Kentucky bourbon and that’s what I drink, on the rocks. But if I do drink a cocktail, it’ll be a Veux Carre.
What can you be found doing when not working? I play with my kids! Me and my kids have dance parties, we go to the park, we ride bikes, we play football. I have three — boy, girl, boy — ages 10, 5 and 3. So there’s plenty of us. It’s a busy household, so when I’m not here, I’m doing that. But it’s fun. I enjoy their time. They’re awesome people.
What’s your favorite thing on the menu right now? My favorite thing on the menu now would be my latest, I want to say creation, but it’s more like a discovery. I’m constantly reading classic, historical books and discovering new things. The Manhattan Club on the menu is basically a Manhattan with a rinse of absinthe. And a lot of pre-Prohibition-style cocktails had absinthe in them, but it wasn’t for flavoring but to make the drink kind of dry.
So what I did was found a story about The Manhattan Club and how they claimed the first Manhattan. And one of their original recipes was a Manhattan with rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, a little rinse of absinthe, orange bitters and angostura bitters. It’s a twist on a Manhattan that most people aren’t used to but it ties everything in and can take you back in time. That’s what’s cool about a lot of great cocktails — it’s like stepping back a hundred years.