Raul Ayala has seen Dirty Habit evolve from behind the bar since it opened 2014. Ayala started as a barback, discovered a passion for creating cocktails, and has ascended to lead the cocktail-focused restaurant’s bar program. Here, Ayala shares how the restaurant has changed, how he channels creativity into his drinks, and details on a couple of his favorite new creations. Read more about Dirty Habit’s new direction in this interview with Executive Chef Thomas Weibull.
You’ve been at Dirty Habit since the beginning. How have you seen the restaurant, and the cocktail program, evolve? Dirty Habit has adapted through a couple different stages – mostly in accordance with seasonal shifts. With the cocktail program, we’ve always placed an emphasis on seasonality, brown spirits, and creative libations, so those defining characteristics remain the same. I think it’s getting better and better every season, though. And now with our new team in place, Dirty Habit is a more delicious and special dining and drinking experience than ever before.
When did you start experimenting with your own cocktail creations? When did things start to gel? I was a barback when I started playing around with libations and creating unique cocktails, thanks to my mentor Brian Means. I quickly realized it was a true interest… a passion… and I began working extremely hard at what I was doing. I was striving toward a career without even realizing it.
What were some of your biggest learnings from the bar team you worked with? Besides an intimate knowledge and understanding of whiskey, I learned how to create, adapt, and make recipes from scratch. After that, it was utilizing my imagination and working on consistency.
One month in as bar manager… how are things going? Have you made any major changes? We’ve been testing out many new creations and by next month, we’ll have about a dozen brand new cocktails on the menu. I’m especially excited to be pushing the boundaries a bit and using bold flavors, herbs and spices. Similar to the new dishes on Chef’s menu, our cocktail program will have an Asian bent, and the focus is still on brown spirits, namely small-batch whiskey. I’m working on two new cocktails right now – one’s a Tom Yum Sour that mimics one of my favorite dishes; it has gin, kaffir lime, galangal, ginger, tamarind and Aquafaba. Another one is a fun, green drink called Bonsai – made with Japanese whisky, citrus, matcha green tea and house-made orgeat. Everything will pair well with Chef’s new dishes.
How closely do you work with Chef in creating cocktails? Primarily we align on ingredients – the produce and products he uses are a way to open new doors and spark fresh ideas for our cocktail menu.