If you are a craft cocktail aficionado, you have most likely been in the presence of executive barkeep, Chauncy James at East Side Show Room, a nominee for the 2012 Tastemaker Awards. And if you haven’t, what are you waiting for? Saddle up to the bar and you will be graced with Chauncy’s charm, charisma and craft cocktail skills.
“I’m here more than I’m out on the scene,” James says. He has been at the East Side Show Room since the very beginning, nearly three years ago: “I was scraping plaster off of the walls.” On the nights he isn’t at the Show Room, you’ll be in good hands as fellow bartenders, such as Adam Reagan, create James' recipes from an expansive menu whose categories include shaken, stirred, crushed ice, aperitif and digestifs.
The atmosphere at the East Side Show Room is quaint and cozy: a step back into time of the speakeasies of yesteryear. “It’s a great setting, a beautiful bar,” James confirms. “It’s got its quirks, nothing’s too done.”
Chauncy James has been honing his skills in the hospitality industry since the tender age of 18. “I was always fascinated with bartending, ” he says, even after one of his first experiences at an establishment that was a little rough around the edges.
At that locale, his bar back duties doubled as bouncer duties, and one evening he had to ask a patron to leave and "I got my ass kicked, literally,” James says. That patron was a girl. Luckily for us, this didn’t scare him away from the industry.
I asked his thoughts on being a mainstay at East Side Show Room and he added, “It’s super cool to be here. We’ve had some of the city’s best bartenders. All the all-stars have been behind the bar [Adam Bryan, Houston Eaves, Jason Stevens]. Here we focus on flavor, we hone the craft. They have (and I have) the reins to be creative, to express ourselves through the drinks.”
When I asked James about his favorite liquors, he chimed in that he loves rum, and booze in general. James appreciates the flavor profiles found in local Texas spirits and likes to use them as a canvas to bring out their best flavors. I also gave him full permission to create a cocktail for me based upon his wishes he mixed up a Mai Tai.
Rum is the base of the drink, and in it, he used delicious Tiki bitters that had flavors of sweet, spiced oranges. He describes rum as having more diversity and nuances from bottle to bottle than that of bourbon or gin. “Rum was it forever,” he says nostalgically. When asked about his take on local spirits he says, “I’m more concerned with what’s in the glass and in the bottle, I like to express what they are honing and perfecting.”
If you haven't seen him at East Side Show Room, you have the chance to meet Chauncy James and sip his expertise at the 2012 Tastemaker Awards. The event takes place on Thursday, April 12 at the Driskill Hotel. Tickets are still available. You can also mix a Chauncy James original at home. Below is the recipe for his Mai Tai.
Chauncy James’ Mai Tai
1 1/2 ounce aged dark rum
1/2 ounce Creole Schrubb VSOP
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce orgeat
5-6 good shakes of Bittermens Tiki Bitters
Give it a vigorous shake, a lemon heart float and a mint garnish.
For more information on the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, visit austin.culturemap.com/tastemakers.