Cory Alberto is the extremely talented Chef de Bar at the Rendezvous Bar at the US Grant Hotel in San Diego. We talked to him about where his passion for this industry began, the incredible process of bringing the iconic 30’s Rendezvous back to life, and what he loves about the San Diego bar scene.
Have you always been interested in mixology/cocktails? How did you get your start in the industry?
I have. I spent my childhood in bars and restaurants. Don’t take this wrong, my father was a restaurateur for 30 years. The people I always looked up to were chefs and bartenders, so I was studying them constantly while folding napkins at the bar and “doing my homework.” I got my start (bartending) working as a busboy with a man named Vinnie Silletta while at one of my father’s joints. Vinny was a classic old Bronx Italian who loved to share stories, called me “Jackson,” and taught me to makes classics like a Negroni or Manhattan. From there I just waited for a tender to show up…let’s say “under the weather” and got thrown into it. While I still loved to cook and be in the kitchen, it just wasn’t comparable.
The US Grant Hotel recently reopened the Rendezvous, a cocktail bar that was originally part of the hotel in the 1930’s. What were some important elements in recreating this historic bar now in 2018?
I think we would have loved to recreate the actual “Rendezvous” but understood it wasn’t realistic. We took the best example of the beautiful gold tiles that had existed on the exterior of the space and incorporated them into the tiling of our bar. We also took the original photo of the bar and created a window cling that creates a beautiful resemblance on the glass exit doors and also details the hours of operations and instructs entry. Beyond that, we went through the archives here and found an original Rendezvous menu, which is the template and cover to our current menu. I think the biggest nod to the original space is our beautiful neon “Rendezvous” sign, which is literally a life size recreation of the first.
What was your process for creating the menu for Rendezvous and choosing what drinks you will serve?
This was a lot of fun for me. I began with putting together a list of rare and unique French spirits, cordials and dishes (flavors of food have always been a huge part of the drinks I create as I look at the bar as an extension of the kitchen). From there I created a list of names for cocktails that were inspired with some element of French Expressions and created recipes that made sense.
Where does your inspiration come from when it comes to creating new drinks and cocktails?
Everywhere. My friends who don’t work in the industry get annoyed with me. Everywhere I go, everything I see and taste or smell is inspiring. I often comment, “This would make a great drink” and start making notes.
What do you find most exciting and unique about the bar/cocktail scene in San Diego and what does the US Grant and Rendezvous bring to the area?
San Diego is a tiny pocket overlooked by major food and beverage cities. I find that our bars here tend to be ahead of trends. We have and have had speakeasies and Tiki bars before popularity, but most uniquely, our city focuses on what’s truly important, fun.
The US Grant and Rendezvous team together bring two very unique venues. One that is historic and full of regal yet approachable elegance, while the other offers something incredibly unique and more accessible to our local and more hip guests.
Do you have an all-time favorite or go-to drink/cocktail?
This is a very tough question to answer. Drinks for me are typically mood dependent and atmosphere related. My number 1 go to cocktail would have to be a Last Word made with a smoky mescal (equal parts base spirit with Green Chartreuse, Maraschino Liquor and fresh lime juice) but generally speaking I want a good, peaty Islay scotch.
Photography courtesy of The US Grant Hotel.