If Ana Cabrera has gained anything from her year at Liberty Bar, let's hope it's speed.
The bar manager at the storied institution shared what a day in the life of a bartender looks like. "I'll be the only bartender, no barback, taking care of 15 barstools, plus a full section, and packing to-go [orders]," Cabrera says.
"What I just described is a lunch shift!"
Cabrera will need that speed and a whole lot more as she heads to New Orleans this weekend to compete in Speed Rack. Held for the first time ever in the Big Easy, Speed Rack is an all-female bartender showdown that pits cocktail queens from across the country against each other in a tournament-style pour off. Judges call out names of classic cocktails for the competitors to make in as little time as possible and time is added to their final score. The bartender with the final shortest time wins. Proceeds from events and competitions benefit breast cancer research.
Competitions are lively, intense, and often chaotic as bartenders compete behind catering wells. Previous contenders from San Antonio include Karah Carmack (San Antonio Cocktail Conference), Elisabeth Forsythe (now with Silo), Zulcoralis Rodriguez (Paramour) and Hillary Woodhouse (The Squeezebox).
For the Southeast round in New Orleans on Monday, Jan. 29, Cabrera is hoping to tap into her competitive and creative side.
Cabrera's love affair with the service industry began long before her tenure at Liberty Bar. As a former intern for State Representative Senfronia Thompson (through the UTSA Legislative Scholars Program, also dubbed the McClendon Legislative Scholars Program for the late Ruth Jones McClendon), the then-student worked at area bars and restaurants when the lege wasn't in session. She graduated from UTSA in 2014 with a bachelor's in honor studies and a minor in legal studies.
She credits her time in the lege, both as a staffer and later on the lobbying side of things, as the reason she clicked with the service industry.
"I was still taking people out to dinners, suggesting wine, making them feel welcome," Cabrera says.
We should also note her gregariousness. She pairs a beaming smile and curly locks of auburn hair with serious knowledge of the craft honed from years working as a bartender around Southtown at the now-closed Frank, Halcyon, Blue Star Brewing and now Liberty Bar.
For the past several weeks, Cabrera has practiced for Speed Rack at home using an ironing board and empty wine bottles she filled with colored water in various hues.
"I'm doing five to six rounds a night at home, and I think my job makes me practice daily," Cabrera said. "I'm making five cocktails, pouring beer, answering questions — it's like one massive Speed Rack round."
And yes, Liberty Bar
has a new cocktail menu. Though originated by Katie McKee before retiring, owner Dwight Hobart brought on cocktail guru Olaf Harmel (of The Modernist) this past summer to consult on the menu. Harmel tasked Cabrera with revamping the spirit offerings that include an emphasis on gin, Scotch and now, Italian amaros.
The dozen or so cocktails on the menu, which debuted this past December, are as accommodating as the rest of Liberty Bar's offerings. There's bold and boozy from the new barrel-aged portion; light and refreshing like the winter G&T with Seersucker gin, grapefruit and cucumber; or punchy and playful, such as Cabrera's Milk & Cookies, that combines Montenegro amaro, Old Overholt Rye and spiced milk infused with toasted, house-made shortbread cookies.
To cap off her practice rounds before leaving for NOLA, Cabrera will host a pop-up at Rosella at the Rand
from 7 to 10 p.m. this Wednesday.
On Sunday, Jan. 28, Speed Rack competitors out of Texas will take over New Orlean's Hot Tin Bar
for another practice round; and on Tuesday, Cabrera will be joined by Forsythe for a Texas Tiki pop-up hosted by Seersucker gin, Campari and St. Germain at Cane & Table
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