Bartender and entrepreneur Jilliann Tish runs her own cocktail business, Belle of the Bar. What started out as an occasional pop-up evolved into a bar and cocktail consulting program in which Tish plans bar setups and signature cocktail programs for events. Tish spoke with Gambit about her business.
What spurred the idea for your cocktail business?
Tish: I'm originally from Ohio, and I moved to New Orleans about five years ago. Before I moved down here, I decided that I wanted to learn a trade as opposed to just trying to wing it. Knowing what I knew about the city being a city of libations and celebrations, I thought, "What better way than to immerse myself into it completely?" Previously I knew absolutely nothing about alcohol, and I've never really been that much of a drinker, but I really like the art of mixing flavors. So I went to bartending school in Cleveland and I fell in love with it — to literally make something out of thin air and realize that there is a special technique behind it and that there's a way to make it really, really good. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, and in the end I knew I wanted to make something of my own with it.
Belle of the Bar originally started as a pop-up service. I did several different pop-ups at stores where I would provide my own cocktails at my own expense and pretty much hope for the best. Now it's a consultation service, which makes it a lot easier. A bar is one of the stressful points that most people forget to think about. Having a full bar at any type of event is pretty pricey and can get pretty overwhelming. So what I do is I come in and consult; I let people know you don't have to have whiskey and rum and vodka and gin. You can have a vodka drink and you can have a whiskey drink and they can have similar flavors or not. ... I work to customize and create drinks. ... It's really fun to create something that's almost like their signature. I kind of like the idea of creating drinks for people rather than creating them just for a bar. I really describe it as my art, just in liquid form. It's almost just like my adult chemistry set.
How does your cocktail philosophy differ from traditional bar programs?
T: I really think that people have this misconception that people have to drink really stiff drinks. I came to realize that a lot of people didn't know very much about alcohol. A lot of my drinks have a really natural look — I make all-natural syrups — with fresh fruit cooked down with just a little sugar, so it's not the syrupy sweet a lot of people associate with cocktails, but once they try it, it's just this explosion of flavor — something that's been cooked down for so long. I think a drink is really a whole experience from the preparation and the presentation to the actual imbibing of it, and then the aftereffect. It's meant to be enjoyed, and that's the thing that a lot of people forget outside of New Orleans. I think down here we have a really good handle on how to enjoy our drinks.
What's your drink of choice?
T: I personally am not a drinker, which people think is pretty funny. I'm kind of a lightweight myself. But when I do enjoy one, I really love a good gin and tonic. I think you just can't go wrong. It's really simple.