Interview with Washington, D.C. Area Rising Star Bartender Bryan Tetorakis of Rogue 24

by Meha Desai
December 2014

Meha Desai: What drew you to restaurants and in particular, to bartending?
Bryan Tetorakis:
I was 15 years old and my neighbor’s dad was a chef; I needed money to buy a car, and he hired me as a dishwasher. I would watch the chefs work. I thought it was so cool, bonding, the camaraderie, the team. I remember thinking that I wished I could take over, just go over there and cook. They would give me small projects—chop this parsley—and I was enthusiastic and would just do it. One day in junior high, sitting in chemistry class, I started thinking “What the hell am I doing?” My best friend, who also worked at the restaurant, was in vocational school, and I decided to make a brash decision and set up an interview with the school. My parents were like “Are you sure? You always wanted to be an architect. But if it’s what you want, we're there for you.”  

MD: Where did you learn to mix?
At the Columbia Room, The Aviary, as well; they're a huge influence. As soon as I decided I wanted to bartend, I studied my ass off. I drank every liquor out there. Read every book. It was the most fun learning curve I’ve ever a had. It’s all about relationships between product and distiller etc. Balance is important. If there’s one thing I say about my drinks, it’s that it all needs to be balanced. Acid is very important. I'm from old school French cooking schools, acid is very very important. We’re not making drinks just to consume alcohol in a different way. We’re making flavors, we’re making memories, it’s all about layering. It’s all about flavors, but not for the sake of it. We need it to work together. 

MD: Where will we find you in five years?
I’d like to get the ball rolling on my place. Whether with RJ [Cooper] or on my own. Things like we do here but more approachable for everybody. This place is small and people who come here are really into cocktails. There’s a wonderful one on one here with the four seats we have. But I want something all about the drinks, all about the cocktail, and all about interacting with the bartender. And something that reflects who I am. It’s all about knocking down the lines of fine dining. It’s OK if you don’t know what things are; it’s just about getting guests excited. That’s how we progress our crafty, by not being a douche bag. There are so many people who go in to it, so many people do so much you never see first hand.

MD: How do you sum up the bar program?
Forward-thinking cocktails brought to you from the mind of a chef; making something new that you would have never thought about before. One important thing was to learn the classics, and Derek [Brown] is strong about that; I leaned how to make the classics properly. That’s something that stayed with me. 

Derek was my mentor. He took me out of the kitchen and put me in the bar. I was at PS7’s, a sous there, then I got into drinks and worked at the Columbia Room. I took Gina's [Chersevani] recipes home and tried them out, and I was hooked. When she heard about RJ looking for a chef-bartender, she told me to go do it. I said I'm not a bartender. She told me to shut up and do it. So, I staged at Columbia Room for two weeks then came here. 

RJ has a new place called Gypsy Soul: modern soul food, regional flavors, Southern flavors made cool; 130 seats, 120 to 270 covers a night. We've done very similar cocktails there. It opened six weeks ago. Because of the high volume, I try to do as much as possible before hand. It’s very technique driven.