Shots at the Disco: A Model for Efficiency, Quality, and Revelry on Draught

by Sean Kenniff
Antoinette Bruno
May 2014

Biography

Restaurant

When was the last time you slammed back a shot and instead of wincing, gagging, or inadvertently crying, you smiled? In the disco room at Los Angeles’s Honeycut, the team behind the bar has taken the stance that shots shouldn’t be a dare or a torturous means to an end: a rollicking, drunken dance party. Co-owner of New York’s Death & Co. and Proprietors, Alex Day and his partners created a dynamic, split-space and bar program in downtown Los Angeles. Honeycut is one part cocktail lounge and one part discotheque (in adjacent but separate spaces) that is shaking up nightlife in La La Land.

To keep the party bumpin’ and grindin’, two draft lines in the disco are dedicated to shots (with the remaining lines pumping cocktails). On any given night, about 20 percent of total sales come from the taps—shots and cocktails. “Anything that comes out of a draft should be fundamentally different from what we make in a single serving,” says Day. “[A draught shot program should] make people smile, not take itself too seriously, and not be a showcase for advanced techniques. ‘[Did] you know that pink shot had a sous vide raspberry syrup and fresh lemon juice that’s been spun in a centrifuge? Hell no! But it’s delicious, you’re feeling good, and it's time to get back on the dance floor.’”

Disco Shot at Honeycut- Los Angeles, CA

Disco Shot at Honeycut- Los Angeles, CA

Mixologist Alex Day

Mixologist Alex Day

The idea for the disco shots evolved from a suggestion to do some of their draught cocktails in shot form. “Both shots are caricatures of themselves: one, the super light and refreshing pink shot that anyone can drink, and the other, a flavor bomb of Fireball and Jameson,” says Day. “If you don’t laugh after one, something is seriously wrong.”

Day thinks it’s also wrong to over-complicate shot development and making. “It would be inauthentic to lay out some overarching philosophy on shot composition. We approach them much like we do a cocktail, but concentrate on flavor more intensely. The whole point of a shot is to drink it quickly. If you’re analyzing it, you kind of missed the point.”

Disco shots embody the bartender-driven trend of subtracting the pretension from craft cocktail bars and adding fun. “News flash: you can be obsessed with and love great drinks and still have a sense of humor,” says Day. “It’s a silly double standard that every ‘craft bartender’ I know is a happy participant in silly shots and degenerate drinking habits. If I were to offer up the same bullshit shots found in any given dive bar right alongside our cocktails, I’d be a big ole hypocrite. [Our disco shots] are a natural extension of everything we care about.” 

In terms of time and labor, a shots-on-draught program is mutually beneficial for bartenders and thirsty fist-pumpers. “For both draft cocktails and shots, the labor is generally front-loaded,” says Day. “You need to train, oversee, and pay someone to prep every day. But when the room is jamming and a group orders 20, the pick-up is a couple minutes and can be done by anyone on the team. Bartenders can work on more complicated tasks; efficiencies all around, but it probably works because we’re such a big place. In some of our smaller bars, I'd never exert so much labor on prepping.” 

If you’re a bartender or owner thinking about implementing a draught shot program, there are some important considerations to take into account, says Day. “Don’t wait until you’re open to make the decision. In order to pull off draught cocktails or shots, you need special gear. Simply throwing a keg cocktail onto an existing beer system is not going to work. Good luck in six months when the lines are saturated with funk because you thought putting Jamaican Rum or Fernet on draft was savvy.”

Day advises that “in a small system, the easiest entry point is buying a kegerator made for dispensing draft wine. It will be set up with the correct Flavourlock tubing and 304 stainless fixtures. From there, the price goes up. Robust refrigeration is key. We have a walk-in directly behind the bar so that the run of our lines is extremely short.”  

As far as bells and whistles, such as a centrifuge, Day says they’re not necessary. “If you want the excuse to go out and buy a centrifuge, I’m all for that. But there are alternatives, like making acidic syrups with citric acid. Thank Erick Castro from Polite Provisions for that innovation.” 

The cost and pricing of disco shots at Honeycut are the same as for all of their other offerings, with an 18 percent to 20 percent product cost. Shots on draught are a fully integrated part of the business and not a private party onto themselves. “[Disco shots] exist only because we have such an extensive draft cocktail program, and the shots are a comic nod to them,” says Day. “They piggy-back on the infrastructure of efficiencies we’ve built behind the scenes.”

Shots on draft make sense for Honeycut. It’s not indicative of a major shift in the way we fuel our carousing and disco dancing. “If I had the option of putting a standard spirit on draft, or picking up the bottle and turning it upside down into a shot glass, I’d of course just pick up the bottle.”