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?
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
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?
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?
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?
To open more bars in the Bay Area; a neighborhood bar by my house, and a third bar with a tropical theme.