If Mixologist Joe Raya seems nimble behind the bar—as if he could reach all the way into the kitchen, say—it’s because he’s got more than cocktail training behind his talent. Before he found his rightful place in mixology, Raya undertook an extensive education at the Culinary Institute of America, foreseeing the kind of culinary-cocktail crossover and emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients that defines modern mixology.
Building on his CIA experience, Raya worked for years at a variety of restaurants, including The Four Seasons Palm Beach. He then moved to Charleston with his wife MariElena, where the couple took over MariElena’s father’s restaurant, Robert’s of Charleston—teaching them how to run a business and giving Raya a chance to refine his technique and expand his cocktail palate. Raya also took the time to earn his Diploma in Wine and Spirits from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust.
When Robert’s closed in 2010, Raya and MariElena opened their dream restaurant and bar, The Gin Joint. And in the process, the duo created a neighborhood “watering hole” that offers classic food and drink in a casual setting, all very thoroughly steeped in the pre-Prohibition style. It’s not just the happy hordes of locals who are validating the Rayas’s shared talents. Through outlets from Garden and Gun to Imbibe, the restaurant has garnered Southern and national press. Earlier this year, Raya won the Charleston Wine + Food Festival Official Mixologist Competition, and he and MariElena launched Bittermilk Cocktail Compounds, selling innovative, all-natural cocktail mixers nationwide.