The Bartender’s Bartender
“When I came to L.A., everybody was acting, so I kind of fell into an acting class at the time,” he recalls. One day, he spotted a long line of hopefuls, assumed it was a casting call and joined the queue. “I needed a job. I was pretty desperate. I didn’t even have a bank account.” Aquino didn’t get a role. But he got a job. It turned out it wasn’t a casting call after all but a new nightclub seeking applicants. That day, Aquino launched his career in the business as a busboy.
Today, Aquino tends bar at Etta, a neighborhood restaurant in Culver City where he’s immersed in the world of craft cocktails. “The price of a cocktail these days is the same as the price of a plate of food, so I think it’s nice to take the time and care to make something guests really appreciate, that they think is beautiful and tastes good,” Aquino says. At Etta, he serves an “adventurous clientele” eager to imbibe riffs on the classics, “so it’s almost like playtime for me.”
While his current position helped him step up his bartending skills, he credits his hospitality and management skills to his time running a tiny neighborhood bar. “It was very much like ‘Cheers.’ It was the perfect job for me. That’s where I first fell in love with the whole bar culture,” he says. The bar had its regulars, and the regulars had their usuals. “It was a good feeling to see somebody come from across the street and know what they were going to drink. You’d make that drink and by the time they sat down, it was sitting right there waiting for them.”
Among the regulars were chefs and bartenders from nearby restaurants who would come after their own places closed down. “Having customers from the service industry come to you is the best compliment you can get,” Aquino says. While the bar didn’t survive the pandemic, Aquino’s pursuit of being the bartender’s bartender continues on.
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