We spoke with Leigh Lacap Bar Director of Jeune et Jolie and Campfire in San Diego. He told us about why he loves the San Diego bar scene and how his career took off there. Plus, we get a sneak peek of what to expect on his French themed cocktail menu at Jeune et Jolie.
What originally made you interested in the bartending/mixology scene? And how did it lead you to where you are today?
Back in 2010, I was completely clueless about the emerging cocktail culture in San Diego. On a whim, I found myself sitting at the bar of newly opened Craft & Commerce where one of the original owners, Nate Stanton, was my bartender. I was enamored by the cocktail list and the way he held court behind that bar. I guess he could tell I was into it – he and opening GM, John Resnick offered me a barback position a few weeks later. As I grew behind that bar, I understood the conviction that the team conveyed with every flick of a jigger, swing of a bottle, every shake, stir, and the undying loyalty of the guests. I haven’t been able to escape those sensations. I want to recreate them wherever I work.
You grew up in San Diego and have worked in restaurants and bars all over the city, from North Park to North County. How would you describe the San Diego bar scene? What do you like about it, and is there anything you would change?
I think San Diego has finally settled into its own. We have shed the dressed up formality of the prohibition-style cocktails and culture that I think started us off. What has taken over is the welcoming, laid back vibe that you should get from a year-round sunny city so close to the beach. Behind that veil, however, is a technical culture infused with local produce and culinary technique, with heavy doses of agave and Tiki. The cocktail community in SD is tight-knit and we are super supportive of one another. We don’t keep any secrets, all information is shared. Every bar is every bar’s hype man. I adore it. Wouldn’t change a thing.
How would you describe your style or approach when it comes to creating new cocktails?
I’m fond of concepts and themes these days – it gives me borders and restraints – I’m a better problem solver in that regard. Rather than being excited about a new product (which still happens frequently) and using that as a basis for something new, I like to recall specific dishes I’ve eaten and places I’ve been. From there, it’s a sensory thing. I try to replicate what I’ve tasted, smelled and seen.
You’ve been recognized in several publications as one of the best bartenders in San Diego. How has this impacted you?
To be honest, the biggest impact has been my relationship with my super traditional Filipino parents. Until a few years ago, my mom wouldn’t admit to anyone that her son was a bartender. It was embarrassing for her. She was ashamed of me and for the longest time, I was torn over going back to school or making my complete exit from hospitality. On the business side, more people want to sell me stuff, haha.
Is there anything you wish more people understood about your job?
The job of a bar manager is as masochistic as any management job. The responsibility, costing, checklists, spreadsheets, and volumes of educational material would drive Peter Gibbons to Hypnotherapy. BUT, I’d be lying if I didn’t get the greatest joy in the world from flipping tins and dumping out bottles in front of smiling people and saying hey, yeah… this is my bar.
What can patrons expect or look forward to when they come for drinks at your latest venture – Jeune et Jolie?
I hoped to take everyone on a world tour on a French Airline, so to speak. Expect lots of strange, hard-to-pronounce words that yield subtle, easy to drink cocktails. Things might look absurd or scary on paper, but the drinks are good, I think. For the sake of anyone kind enough to order a cocktail, I’d never put a drink on a menu that I wouldn’t drink 3 of.