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Ryan Haile of Parlour in Oakland

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Photo by Derek Tobias @simmonstobias

To hear the audio version of this interview with Ryan & Derek visit AusformMag.comwhere each week you will hear a new interview with one of the wonderful personalities that make the Bay Area such a unique and magical place.

Ryan Haile of Parlour in Oakland: The story of how a California born musician hung up his gear after having a family and instead turned his creativity towards making cocktails in some of the bay area’s best bar/restaurants.  If you are interested in reaching out to Ryan or scheduling a virtual happy hour get in touch with him on his IG at puma_hailemanello

Ausform: let’s go ahead and start off with telling us a little bit about your upbringing and where you were raised.

Ryan: I was born in Hanford, California actually. And then when I was short of turning five my family moved out to Brazil. I lived there for about four and a half years. And then we came back and we were in New York for a bit, that’s where my family’s originally out of and still the majority of them are still in Massachusetts and New York area. And then there was an opportunity for the family to make their way back to California, so we packed up an old station wagon and drove across the US.

We made our way back to California, and kind of scooted around a little bit in different areas, just as my family’s trying to get their grounds back, parents trying to get some jobs and all, and eventually we made our way to Santa Cruz where I did my high school years and grew up there  working on music and all that.

And then when I was about 26, a buddy of mine hired me up to work the door with them at this one local bar in Santa Cruz. I eventually ended up getting a job working the door at the sister bar restaurant. And then that turned into bar-backing, and that was my first bartending job.

And that led to us moving out here to Oakland. And we brought our daughter at the time who was about three or four. And then I stayed in the industry. I kind of fell in love with bartending.

I wasn’t really intent on getting into the field. I was mostly concentrating on doing music and everything, but yeah from events it kind of changes things around.

Ausform: So you were focusing on music originally. Were you musically inclined as a child or was there music in your family?

Ryan: In the family for sure. I mean my dad sang a lot and my mom played the clarinet, but neither one of them were really classically trained by any means. But they did do a lot of music.

I grew up with my dad not only listening to a variety of music, but also constantly singing. Whether it was in the car, the house, the shower, something like that. So there was that aspect of it. And then, I grew up as a kid. I got into like doing dance stuff. I mean music’s pretty big in Brazil anyway. You know it’s such a huge part of the culture.

the rhythms and the people. And so it’s one of the things that is going to be a part of you whether you want it or not. So yeah I think that was a heavy influence for sure. But I got into music later on. I started to teach myself how to play guitar. I got into electric guitar as a kid and I was like, yeah, I’m going to be a rock star! You know, that kind of thing. And then I started to understand it’s not an automatic reward. It actually takes a lot of time to practice. So then I went with the drums, because it was an immediate pay off. And then that turned into me going back into guitar later on. then I got into turntablism, and got on a PC and started doing digital production/sampling. And then that turned into a secondary music group that was more organic. We were playing live instruments while playing live sets.

But that was that and life throws you curve balls and everything dismantled around it later on.

Photo by Marcell Turner @marcellturner

Ausform: Do you remember the first unique cocktail that you created?

Ryan: I think the first time that I had made my own cocktail that I felt pretty strong about was a rye whiskey base and it had creme de peche and basil and egg whites for the texture and absinthe. I can’t remember the bitters, and there like lemon. It was in that sours sort of profile, that style. it was a across the board pleaser, like if you’re a Manhattan drinker, you drank it. And if you were somebody who had drank only sparkling cocktails, you would have one, you know? But it was one of those things where I noticed like the broadness of the spectrum was good. At 515 we had so much to pull from. But for me that was the one that was like, okay this is across the board a pleaser.

I called it True Romance after obviously the film. She’s as sweet as a Georgia peach.

Ausform: What would you say your favorite liquor is?

Ryan: Well my favorite thing to drink usually is Amaros. I fell in love with Amaros

Ausform: Do you have a specific brand that you usually gravitate towards?

Ryan: I guess Santa Maria is like one of my favorites Santa Maria Al Monte, I’m all day. It’s that fragmented sort of nuance of with like a more medicinal fernet will become, but it has still the subtleties of all of this sort of like richer Amaros out there with all those baking spices. It meets right in the middle, so it’s nice.  But I don’t know. It’s a tough one. There’s a lot of them. There’s a lot of really, really good ones.

Ausform: I think right now there’s a pretty big resurgence in whiskey and rye as well as bourbon. What is it about whiskey that you think appeals to most people?

Ryan: I think the resurgence of the interest of it is definitely history factors for the other people that are consuming it. The complexity of the profiles, the ease of how it does drink and how it doesn’t carry this negative nostalgic aspect. Like tequila is a hard one to convince somebody to get back into because they had that one bad experience and tequila, it doesn’t matter how refined it is, the moment somebody smells that familiar smell. That one bad moment came back for them. I feel it’s the same for Gin. Gin is a tough one I feel because of the same reason. And it’s too much Juniper on the nose or whatever it may be.

But I think with whisky, we’ve all drank anything from not great at all and just something to drink, to something that’s memorable and we sip on and we think about it and talk about it. So I think that helps.

And then I feel like the people that were maybe always curious as to what a Manhattan is like, I see them popping up more but now they’re more interested in a Manhattan with Rye cause they want that spice, they don’t want just the vanilla. I think the popularity too of how many people are representing whiskey. So you had the hip hop scene was all about showing off, showcasing vodka products and cognac and things like that. And then you had tequila that was taken on by anyone who is in rock music or metal. But I’m seeing more whiskey being promoted. And it’s a broad spectrum its actors or musicians. It’s all of these popular icons that everybody trusts when they have their commercials or whatever they’re promoting.

Ausform: Do you have a favorite whiskey that you tend to drink at home?

Ryan:  Yeah. You know, I’m a big Willett household fan? I love the family of Willett products and I think that something to constantly sip on as my go to is Noah’s Mill. If it’s around  I’ll sip on that because I really, really enjoy that a lot.

Outside of that one, I think Elijah Craig is really solid. That’s another one that’s just easy go to. Even in the multiple spectrums of aging that it has.  I’ve also fallen in love with, Two James it’s a Detroit based company and they make a bourbon that’s a little bit over proofed that sits in a Madeira cask.

And that one’s really, really fantastic. And then they have a hundred percent Michigan rye that is pretty phenomenal for making Manhattans or Old Fashioned and stuff like that. They have an East meets West called Johnny Smoking Gun, which is sort of they’re ode to Japanese whiskey, and that one’s really, really smooth, very, very tasty.

Ausform: Recently you were working at Parlour in Oakland (before the lockdown). Did you pair specific cocktails to the menu items or were you just kind of working the back bar?

Ryan: You know I tried to, I definitely tried to cause we centered a good amount of it of the seasonal changes. And so with that we’d get the seasonal ingredients coming in and we had small farm purveyors that would come through from San Francisco all the way out to two hours North or two hours South or whatever it may be.

So, you know, we were pulling from a lot of fresh ingredients that farmers were bringing into us, which is great. And then we would showcase that by having a menu that would showcase shrubs, which could showcase fruits and vegetables what we’re doing for that. So we made it so that it was going to be something that would compliment the meal items, but it wasn’t so literal.

The times that I would do that is if I had guests that would come in. And mostly these were guests that I’ve known for a very long time. And they’d all post up and sit at the bar, and then I’d ask them what they’re feeling like eating and then based off of their dining experience and what they picked out meal wise I would make something to complement the food.

Nothing too literal. We wouldn’t put it on the menu as a paired item. If there’s a private dinner, that’s where the main pairings would happen.

Ausform: So how would you go about determining which cocktails creations you would pair with what dish?

Ryan: The first part is to base it off of the flavor profile of the dish. So if it’s like having herbs or citrusy or fatty, or has a lot of brineyness to it, or there’s a lot of baking spice now it’s like going through those profiles with the dish itself is the starting point. That sort of a foundation for the building of the cocktail.

And then depending on how the person wants to start that meal. So if they’re starting off with say an appetizer or something light or a salad or something like that. I don’t want to cash their tongue out and get them overly committed to something rich that  will either consume that dish and they’re not going to get all the nuances that they’re looking for or it’s not going to lead in well to them having a secondary one.

Usually if it’s somebody who’s having multiple meals, I’ll start off for the low ABV style cocktail. And then something that is going to be a little bit brighter or something that has a little bit effervescence to cut through some richness depending on the dishes. And then with that I’ll go okay, where’s your base? Do you have certain spirit preferences that you don’t drink? And then do you want something citrusy or something stirred? And then I’ll ask them is bitter okay? And is effervescence okay? Something like that. I’ll go through that spectrum with them because then it gives me an idea, if they don’t like better than I’m going to eliminate the idea of a tonic. I’m going to eliminate the ide of the negroni formula or something like that. So it’s more of that process. Ask them what they want for food, see what that base is and then think about that food quickly. Start asking them the questions of what their profile or drink that they’re in the mood for is, and then start pulling certain elements off the shelf to, to build that.

I try not to complicate it. I try to keep it at like five ingredients or less cause I do like to present a dealers choice in front of them after they’re done, so they could see what the products are.

Photo by Marcell Turner @marcellturner

Ausform: Has the growth of Instagram and people wanting to take pictures of the things that they’re eating, the things that they’re drinking, affected the way that you think about creating cocktails at all?

Ryan: whether somebody is seeing it or somebody is not seeing it. I feel like it’s going to affect me just naturally, because it’s so much of a prominent thing in our society. We are documenting everything and I’m one of those people that documents maybe not as much as my friends have said I should for like self-promotion, but it’s still a tool right? I get to use this as a easy way to market myself of whatever I’m doing. So whether it’s me like going on a hike and showcasing a landscape or a picture that I think is awesome or I’m making a cocktail that needs to be presented instagram is definitely going to be a part of those aspects.

But I don’t feel like I’m constructing something for the person to promote on their Instagram. That’s not the intention of it. If it was a room that was just the two of us in there and there was nothing to document I want to make the best-looking cocktail and the best sipping cocktail experience I can. And that goes for me making cocktails for myself too. You do it because you care about it and then you want to make the best thing possible instead of it being about wanting to make the best thing possible that could be blasted with social media, at least on my end.

Ausform: Currently everyone’s having to stay at home due to Covid-19. How are you staying engaged with your coworkers and keeping positive during this situation?

Ryan: I try to reach out to them as much as possible, I’ve been fortunate to have a slew of friends made.

And been fortunate to have an established caring and looking out for my best attention group community.

And they’ve sent me a slew of resources constantly. And so I try to stay engaged with both the people that were immediately working with me over at Parlor to my small stint of time of filling in here and there over at Drexel, and getting to know that crew over the years and just as many people in the community as possible.

So that’s been really helpful to stay connected that way. Also them reaching out to let me know about some in-home contest and a lot of places are putting together to keep bartenders minds busy keep our creative sides active and all of that. there was a recent one from this company called three 75 parkour and spirits, and they, they were doing, they have like 10 products that are part of their product list.

And a buddy of mine who works for Paul John whiskey, which is an Indian whiskey. He happened to be able to have some product available for me to be able to get because that’s another thing too is now a lot of the things aren’t even available or harder to get your hands on them. So now you’re trying to figure out, well how do I strategically purchase for my household. So then my house can become my personal showcasing bar area. Or I can do these virtual happy hours, where I can do a tip jar things where I’m like staying connected with my old guests that used to come in and things like that. There’s just a lot of changes happening and shits getting kind of crazy.  We all stay connected though which is pretty awesome. It’s a tight community.

Ausform: Considering the fact that general life might not be normal for a while.  and even when we go back to being able to access restaurants and bars and everything, the social interaction and how we potentially have to wear a mask when we’re in places in the future. Have you given any thought as to what the general future of eating and drinking in public it’s going to look like?

Ryan: I think that people are underestimating how much finesse will have to go into reopening to the public, especially on these different like situations.

I think that restaurants will have an easier job than cocktail bars. The restaurants can follow a certain order. Separate your booths and things like that. Have all of the structure there, limit the amount of people they have working at the place who have to wear gloves and masks. When does these things have to be applied?

You know, do you do all now plastic covered menus that are constantly wiped down?  There’s just new procedures and processes, right? So I feel like that’s going to be something that will be easier to cater to and reopen to, to our society. But bartending will be different in that cocktail sense because it is such a social gathering place.

It’s a confined spot that you’re supposed to be either bumping elbows or shoulders, but like you’re sitting close by people and you’re talking and interacting and watching all of those things. And the bartenders are leaning in close cause they got to either hear somebody or they got to talk to somebody.

it’s the charisma of the entire face as well as the bartender personality. I think that people will struggle first with whatever the changes are that are going to have to happen. I think that it just needs to be like bartenders getting on board with it. Business owners getting on board with it. And just being like this is the new norm. This is what has to happen. As to  what that is, I don’t even. I know that there’s places in China that started establishing certain things like where you had some of those bars that weren’t on the ground. People will go and they’ll get their drinks and it had to be only a certain amount of people that can go and get a drink. And then you provide the people with that and then they go back to a certain area. Do we start putting up plexi barriers in between us?  You only serve underneath the barrier. Who knows? That could be a possibility.

But the interesting part is how many people can you fit into an establishment? I think capacity levels will have to be changed, and everybody’s talking about splitting it right in half.

But if you have a spot that could fit a hundred people if it’s packed, but 50 people is still pretty tight. It’s still 50 people we have to put in that place, and are we going to have to gauge people’s temperatures when they start to come in? You know, are they going to have to be okay with that?

So now you’re not only are you giving me your card and then you step back and I look at your card, shine my light on the card, and you pull down your mask, but you gotta be in line. You know what I mean? So do we have to make a line system now? There’s more of a rotating bar. Is your experience there timed? There are speakeasy’s that kind of do that. I think there was a speakeasy in Seattle that does that, where you have a couple of drinks and then after your scheduled time it’s time for you to move on so somebody else can have the experience. I wonder if that’s what’s going to happen with it. Do, do we start focusing more on that idea of the to go cocktail I don’t know.

Ausform: Going back to that, many restaurants have started doing to go cocktails have you been a part of that at all or have you experienced it as a customer?  What are your thoughts on that whole experience?

Ryan: Well one I think it’s great that the ABC recognize the need to alleviate some tight grips on some of the rules and was able to provide people with a means to be able to still move through their inventory and also provide financial means for people that were still kept on as employees. I think that’s pretty pretty great.

I think it’s a good idea. I think that it needed more guidance. It started off as being like we could do to go cocktails. Great. Oh, you have to do to go cocktails only with the go food. Got it. So that eliminates bars. But then they said, well if you’re not a restaurant you can sell retail so people can purchase bottles off you. Okay, well you can purchase a premade cocktail kit. So then you see bar only places being like, all right, we’ll, sell a cocktail kit. It’s a gin and tonic kit and it’s the little three 75 of a bottle of gin and it’s tonic and we’ll sell some ice.

And again there’s some people that jumped on that bandwagon and said, let’s try to push this as much as possible. Some have been very successful and some are giving up on the notion. I mean, I presented it to parlor just cause we had a wood oven and we made housemate pasta. So it’s an easy package deal, right? You make a pizza, you make a pasta with a to-go sauce. And make some to-go cocktails. And it’s all good.

But it’s funny cause obviously if you buy a cocktail, it’s got to be in a to-go container that doesn’t have a sip hole to it. it’s gotta be closed. So now you have to either have Mason jars on hand or you gotta have completely closed and sealed deli cups or you have a little mini bottle that’s going to be able to cap off. I think that has the potential of being something, but we’re trying to build a structure like New Orleans, like it’s in Glenda place and I’ll walk out with a cocktail.

And so we just have to make sure there’s rule around that. Or there are going to be a lot of people that are going to get in trouble.

Photo by Marcell Turner @marcellturner

Ausform: There’s been various relief packages meant to help businesses pay their employees. But a good portion of bartenders take home pay is related to the tips. How have you been helping offset that loss in your income?

Ryan: First. The government gives us that payment that eventually goes through. So that brings in a little bit of income. Then signing up for EDD. So those things helps offset some of the need for the generated tip money. But for me, my family signs up for a CSA box, so we still get that coming through.

But there’s also a company called green thumb that’s been delivering food boxes up at San Francisco at the Ferry Building up there. And then sometimes in Jack London square. It’s farmers trying to pull together again and be like, Hey, these companies are paying us because we’re struggling because the restaurants aren’t buying from us right now.

So we’re putting together these boxes, we’re giving it to these bigger companies that have all of these people that are donating to keep it afloat. This nonprofit gives that out to industry people, cause a lot of it’s very restaurant sort of focused. And so it gives it to the service industry folks. And then we come back with a box of vegetables. And if it’s enough for our family, great. If it’s more than our family can consume, then we spread that out to whomever and drop off a goody bag to a friend that doesn’t know about or is in need and hadn’t signed up yet.

So those have been great things to offset the lack of of income. But also having tip jar has been great. Cause tip jar is linked to your Venmo accounts. And it’s been a way for me to connect with guests. So these micro friendships that you create from regulars that are constantly coming in to sit at your bar and catch up from their weeks a month.

I’ve been able to host virtual happy hours with regular guests. So some of them I was asking folks, what did they have in the house? Like what sort of products do they carry in the house? And then that leads into cool you guys got these things. What are you guys eating tonight? Great. Okay, well I’m going to make you that dinner that you’re used to having every Wednesday.

Now you can do, you’re going to be obviously cooking and stirring and all that stuff, but let’s conceptualize it, you know, together and they’ve, you know, they’ve been willing to tip out on that. So it’s a way of like still generating something.

It seems like there’s a lot of resources. You just have be diligent about it and hack away at what’s going to work at not

Ausform: What’s been the most interesting or inspiring thing that you’ve seen happened during this lockdown period?

Ryan: [00:23:03] I think the most inspiring thing that has happened from this is sort of insurgents of people’s need to connect. So, we have a social field of work when we have people that come in and they sit at the bar, and it’s a total difference between somebody who’s serving on the floor.

But I feel like as a society, people have gotten so involved with their own personal stories that are generating a constant feed and distraction based off of our phones. And so you see so much more of that connection.

But walking around the most interesting thing that I’ve seen is on the streets. People are making more of an effort to like connect eyes with people. Even if you’ve got your mask on, right? You’re just walking around and keeping your distance and all of that. There’s a moment where like people look at you and they’re just drawn to give you the like smiling eyes above the mask and wave a hand like, Hey, walking out here too.

And just the boosts of people helping each other out. It’s forcing people to be more inventive and creative.

Ausform: We’ll go ahead and wrap up with a few rapid fire questions. So burgers, tacos or other?

Ryan: Other, I’d say. Thai food.

Ausform: What’s your favorite Thai food place to go to?

Ryan: We got, we got spoiled.  I’ll make this quick, but in November of last year, we fortunately were able to bring our entire family out to go to Thailand. We fell in love with this dish called Khao Soi.

I haven’t found a place out here it that makes it to that level. It’s got two different types of noodles. It has sort of a ramen round noodle that is fried, so it’s crunchy. And then it also has these flat egg noodles. That are in this little Curry broth. And then the yellow Curry broth has coconut milk, fresh herbs. And then some seafood in there or some pork or chicken. And it usually tends to be a little bit spicier cause I guess it’s a Northern style Thai dish. But it’s those textures and those flavors and like the richness, but it has a real fresh herbal aspect to it. So it’s just a lot of pleasing spectrums of experiences throughout the dish.

Ausform: Favorite non bar or restaurant business in the city.

Ryan: I would have to say the Moma or the Deyoung.

Ausform: Three places that you want to go first thing once we’re able to interact again?

Ryan: I would love to go to Albania. Albania is on the list. We’ve always wanted to see Japan. And we definitely want to go see a bunch of people out in Italy. Also we’ve been wanting to go out to Chicago.  A friend of ours was going to have a baby, so we’ve been wanting to go out to Chicago to be honest.

Ausform: Do you have anything that you want to promote for yourself or any organizations that you’re passionate about?

Ryan: I would say for anybody who’s searching for assistance, and this is for service industry or not. I’m looking through the USBG systems. They have a lot that’s available and accessible to everybody. And a lot of resources that are linked to that. And then also if people are really looking to grow more, look into all these free courses that are out there through colleges and different places, just to expand on things.

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Derek Tobias

Derek Tobias

Derek Tobias is originally from Santa Cruz. When he was only 5 years old it was his dream to grow up and be the siren on an ambulance, but after coming to the crushing realization that it was a machine at age 8 he decided to focus his efforts on more creative endeavors. Music and art fuels his life and he can often be found around San Francisco concert halls with his vintage tan camera bag around his shoulder.