Luis O'Beristain is nothing if not a creator. He sees cocktail-making, his profession of choice, as an art form in which he gets to tinker with combinations and cater to the whims of customers daily. And he's felt this way for some time. For 24 years, O'Beristain has been with the Four Seasons Hotel, and the past six have been behind the bar at Bourbon Steak. He talked with Eater about this journey.
(The interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
That accent doesn't exactly sound American. Where are you from, and how did you end up in D.C.?
I'm from Mexico. I came here in 1989. I moved to Maryland first and since then I've been in D.C...Actually when I first came to the Four Seasons there were four Joses -— my full name is Jose Luis — so they just called me Mexico. And then later on Luis.
How did you get involved in the restaurant/bar industry?
I started in the hotel (Four Seasons) in 1989 around September of that year. I used to work in banquets. Then I worked out at the garden terrace. Back in 2008 there was a major renovation and (I was moved to Bourbon Steak)...I worked as a bar back and then I started learning from the great mixologists that are here so that I could do it myself.
Have you had other jobs leading up to the Four Seasons?
Yes. I worked all kinds of different jobs over the years. But the main job has been the Four Seasons. Back then there was a Mexican restaurant on The Hill that I worked for too. I used to cook back then. My main focus used to be in the kitchen but now it's at the bar.
So, what do you consider the best part about your cocktail-creating job?
It's just a wonderful experience...We get a lot of VIP people and the Four Seasons doesn't reveal who they are. Some people want to get recognized but we as a company respect their privacy...I also think everyone's equal. I'm a full believer that everyone deserves the attention and the hospitality that they get. So that's what I try to do.
The Four Seasons is a wonderful group because of the people they choose. I'm really happy with this company, which is the reason I've stayed for 25 years.
And on the flip side -- what's the most challenging part of the job?
Every day is a challenge because we offer an experience where everything is from scratch. Everything's fresh. There's a big variety of whiskeys. So it's a lot to do and remember.
I used to have probably 90 bottles (of liquor to work with), and now I have almost 200. That's a big increase.
But I learn every day. It's amazing, the product that we offer.
Ok, so without naming names -— because you're not allowed to — who comes in to your bar? What's the crowd like?
There are a lot from the States, also from out of the States. Some people that are well known...The company itself is well known so people know once they step into the Four Seasons they know what they're getting and they come to see us. It's our job to keep them happy.
What's the drink that you end up making the most?
I don't know how many thousands of drinks I've made, but if I had to start to think about that and count. Hmmm. I don't have a specialty really but what I learn from my mixologist is that you can create anything, and we're creating so many different drinks. I make a lot of spicy drinks. I love spice, you know. Jalapenos. I'll just say, if you like spice just come and I'll make you a good drink.
So there's not really one go-to drink that customers seem to ask for most?
Not really. We have a nice menu. On one part we say "Dealer's choice." We talk to the client, investigate what they love and then choose for them based on that. Let's say you're a bourbon drinker. We'll often go to The Jefferson (bulleit, carpano antica formula, creme de mure, old fashioned bitters). People like that one. It's great for those who love a manhattan style drink. Or, of course, we have a lot of martinis. There's a new addition made with vodka and lemon and spicy syrup. Or we can make something with rum. We try to investigate what is your favorite spirit and if you like citrus and then, according to that information, we make something.
The image people have of bartenders is part therapist. Do a lot of customers come to you to talk about their day? What are the kinds of problems they come to you with?
Oh, so many things...what makes me feel good and what I get more is when they say I remember you from years ago. And we recall the old days. That makes me feel good.
In the last year, especially, a bunch of new steakhouses have opened in D.C. Does it feel like it's affected business?
No, I don't think so. We are so popular and strong. There's a lot of restaurants closing and opening and closing and opening...This new generation, I'm seeing a lot of them in. So that's good.
When you're not working, do you go to a lot of D.C. bars, check out what other mixologists are doing?
I'm someone who very much loves to be with my daughter so she's a bit young to go to a bar. My hobby, though, is to make new drinks at home. So I'll make a nice manhattan for her mom and then a virgin one for my little daughter. I'm trying out making different drinks.
Are you going to keep bartending at the Four Seasons forever? Or what will you do?
Well, my dream, when I was young, I had a small restaurant in Mexico with my grandmother. Then when i came to the United States I used to cook. i just love to create whether it's cooking or making drinks. One is liquid; the other is food and to combine it with a nice glass of wine or a martini. Any time you can create is amazing.