May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. In honor of it, Thirsty is shining the spotlight on Evan Hosaka, Juyoung Kang and Daniel Yang, three Asian American lead bartenders at Electra Cocktail Club, The Dorsey and Rosina—collectively known as the Cocktail Collective in Las Vegas.
Trained by award-winning mixologist Sam Ross, all three of them oversee the day-to-day operations at each Cocktail Collective bar. Everything from staying up-to-date with industry trends to crafting new cocktails to coming up with fresh programming, they do it all and do it well. Here’s an in-depth look at each bartender’s career, challenges they face as Asian American bartenders, what they love best about what they do, cocktails that best describes them the most and what has driven them to be successful today.
EVAN HOSAKA – ELECTRA COCKTAIL CLUB
JUYOUNG KANG – THE DORSEY
DANIEL YANG – ROSINA
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN THE BEVERAGE INDUSTRY?
Hosaka: In 2012, I spent most of the year applying for barback positions in Honolulu and Waikiki but got passed over due to lack of experience. I decided to look into other cities that may have more beverage opportunities. I ended up in the San Francisco Bay Area in February of 2013 and got my first job as a busser in a full-service restaurant. I moved through the different positions and became a bartender four months later, completely underqualified but supported by an amazing management team that believed in my potential.
Kang: Back in 1999, I got a job as a server at a business club in Philadelphia. Six months into the job, I was trained as a bartender. Opportunity strikes when someone doesn’t show up for their shift and that was my lucky break.
Yang: I originally was recruited by a friend to join The Dorsey to go down the management route, but during my time there, I met my mentors Evan Hosaka and Sam Ross. With their coaching and an additional push from my good friend and then manager of The Dorsey, Luis Lopez, I saw the incredible depth of learning and opportunity in bartending. I decided to grow myself in that direction instead. I was incredibly fortunate to be a part of a company and program that allows people to rise through the ranks not due to tenure but rather by their ambition and self‐drive.
THE COCKTAIL COLLECTIVE OFFERS A DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE AT EACH BAR. WHAT IS ONE OF THE UNIQUE THINGS ABOUT THE BAR YOU BARTEND AT?
Hosaka: Electra is at the center of all the action on The Palazzo casino floor. It has the energy of the best Las Vegas nightclubs with the feel of a local hotspot. One visually unique thing about Electra is the 40‐foot digital display that takes up one side of the bar. It shows original rotating art in 70 million pixels and more than one billion colors. It makes Electra feel futuristic and energetic. While The Dorsey and Rosina have large back bars, ours emphasizes eclectic rums, agricoles, and mezcals.
Kang: The Dorsey has the largest menu of all three Cocktail Collective bars. The menu consists of modern riffs on the classics, and we update it twice seasonally to utilize the freshest fruit and vegetable juices in the cocktails. We play a lot of old-school hip‐hop that almost everyone recognizes, and it creates a fun, comfortable vibe. The Dorsey is modern and fun in a way that’s relatable to all legal drinking-aged patrons.
Yang: Bartender’s choice. Enough said. The term can be a bit misleading; we refer to it as the bartender’s choice, but the reality is we talk to the guest and identify their taste profile and build a classic cocktail around them. I like to think of it as a bespoke cocktail experience. One of our biggest passions at Rosina is introducing our guests to cocktails they normally wouldn’t have had the pleasure to experience. The cocktail guides (a.k.a. bartender a.k.a. cocktail nerds) main goal is to use their expertise and knowledge to lead them to a new favorite. I highly encourage anyone who visits Rosina to allow us to take them on this journey of discovery.
BEING AN ASIAN AMERICAN BARTENDER, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE ISSUES YOU FACE?
Hosaka: Apart from my last name being weirdly uncommon and tricky to pronounce (I’m just playing)?! On a more serious note, some people seem to have developed a connotation that Asian people are more passive or more easily pushed over. This sometimes may lead to guests speaking down or becoming more demanding toward Asian American bartenders. However, these interactions are easily remedied by bringing a little louder personality behind the bar. That means anything from your voice to hairstyles and tattoos! Confidence, knowledge, and good decision- making skills are also important. Not just for Asian Americans but all bartenders.
Kang: I believe the first thought everyone has when they first look at me is to wonder if I have an accent or not, and when I don’t, they seem relieved. It’s usually followed up with what seems like an innocent, curious question. However, it’s unconsciously ignorant. “Where are you from and when did you start speaking English because you have no accent at all?” Much to their surprise, I tell them I was born in the U.S. and spoke fluent English since entering kindergarten. Another stereotype as an Asian American female is people assume I’m meek and submissive. However, that’s the opposite of my personality. I’m bold, expressive, and will fight courageously for what’s right. People who know me tell me that I’m intimidating at first, but then they realize that I’m just honest and straightforward.
Yang: There will always be this inevitable question that I think Asian Americans face far more often than we should, “What kind of Asian are you?” My answer is, “the bartending kind.”
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT WHAT YOU DO?
Hosaka: I love that I have an opportunity to teach Sam Ross’s program to aspiring bartenders, as well as seasoned bartenders looking to refine their skill set. Sam’s methods allow a focused individual to develop a skill set within bartending that allows them to be successful behind nearly any bar anywhere. Simple things like cocktail families and order of operations are so undervalued but so extremely effective. Bartending can be a profession at this level or can be used to moonlight for extra income outside of school or a normal 9 to 5. Bonus: no college debt required to be a bartender!
Kang: The conversations I have with guests and my team are what I love best about my job. I love learning about people and their world. I like being a well‐rounded person. Learning about my guests and my team allows me to make myself relatable and reliable. I’m adaptive by nature, so I adjust myself to make someone comfortable and at ease. My workplace is where guests can relax and unwind, and I’m a part of helping with that. The Dorsey is right off The Venetian casino floor, so we are usually always busy. It can be a stressful place with many demands and quick turnarounds. It’s important to me to create a space where my team can work feeling safe and supported with someone to lean on. I create that dynamic by listening to their concerns and creating a solution quickly. They have to be heard and action needs to take place. When people feel safe and supported, it gives mentorship the space to grow.
Yang: I think my favorite aspect about bartending, or leading a program, is the educational and mentoring aspect. There is nothing more fulfilling than when a guest tells me they learned something new or found a new interest. But there is also nothing more rewarding than seeing a fellow team member grow with continued effort or tutelage. I had the privilege of learning from two great people, so I feel I have to honor their efforts by paying it forward.
IF YOU COULD DESCRIBE YOURSELF AS A COCKTAIL, WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
Hosaka: I would describe myself as any weird cocktail that reads poorly on a menu but somehow works and tastes great. My career, personality, and style are all a little unconventional and can be challenging to figure out. The Coal Train cocktail is a great example as it blends rhum agricoles and rye whiskey, a bit of banana liqueur and Mexican bitters. You might think those ingredients won’t work well together, but they do.
Kang: I would say a Martinez. Four very different ingredients to create a complex yet balanced and harmonious cocktail. Like the gin, I’m a clear spirit with nothing to hide, but there’s a lot of flavor in what you can’t see. Like the sweet vermouth, I have rich, balanced nuances that make up my bold personality. Like the Maraschino liqueur, that interesting sweetness is like my smile and softens my intimation factor that everyone seems to say I have. Lastly, like the orange bitters, a little bit goes a long way to brighten up the cocktail. It’s the little things that make the difference to me.
Yang: I like to compare myself to an Old Fashioned. A bit direct, sometimes over the top, but overall, I’ll grow on you (or I won’t!).
THE COCKTAIL COLLECTIVE DETAILS
The Dorsey, The Venetian, 3355 S. Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas, NV 89109; Electra Cocktail Club and Rosina, The Palazzo, 3325 S. Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas, NV 89109; venetian.com; @thedorsey_lv @electralasvegas @rosinabar
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