Interview with San Francisco Rising Star Alicia Walton of The Sea Star

by Sean Kenniff
June 2016

Sean Kenniff: How did you get your start?
Alicia Walton:
I started as a hostess in West Virginia and quickly moved to work as a server and then behind the bar before I legally should have been. Once I turned 18, I worked for a jazz club in Charlottesville and then after about four and a half years I moved to California where I learned about fine food and wine. I bartended at Martuni’s for a long time, and wasn’t doing anything super crafty, but was having fun behind the bar. I won a competition and went to Spain. Then I met H. Hermann, and joined the team at Elixir. He taught me you don’t have to put pucker in everything and about flavor profile and how to build cocktails, and I started coming up with my own ideas. He showed me how to own a bar. I worked at Elixir from 2008 to 2013, then I went to Comstock Saloon with [Jonny] Raglin and crew. They opened my eyes to creating classic cocktails. After working at Bloodhound and Brass Tacks, I left to open my own place.

SK: What is your favorite cocktail to drink?
AW:
Sazerac for a classic, but I enjoy trying drinks at other bars to check out what tasty libations other people are making. 

SK: Speaking of tasty libations, tell me about the infusion in La Panchamama
AW:
People always infuse spirits; I like amaro and bitter things, and wanted to make something spicy. And a while back, a friend of mine had been growing shiso in her backyard. I infused an equal parts blend of vermouths and got this awesome shiso vermouth. Everybody loved it; balanced and subtle, it just worked. So, for La Panchamama, I wanted to do the same thing but with aperol, a little less bitter than Campari. I used dried Thai bird chiles, fresh Serrano peppers, and jalapeƱos. Pisco is so easy and fun that some things can get lost in it, but this worked out so well. I go to the farmers market all the time, and I saw these fresh Thai chiles, bought a whole huge bag, and let them dry. But the [infusion] was a little one note, so I added the fresh jalapeƱos and Serranos. I Love the subtle heat, and the pisco comes out, I love that savory-spicy blend. It's a play on a pisco sour and I put a cool kick on it to make it different. 

SK: What cocktail trend would you most like to see?
AW:
Cocktail flights. It would give people a chance to try more things on your menu. Like we do with beer. I think I’m going to get started on that for the Sea Star!

SK: What city’s cocktail culture would you most like to explore?
AW:
London. They have been above and beyond for years now, and checking out their styles and ideas sounds amazing. There are so many bars!

SK: What's the five year plan?
AW: 
To open more bars in the Bay Area; a neighborhood bar by my house, and a third bar with a tropical theme.