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June 25, 2020

Leah & Louise’s bar manager on diversity in mixology

Justin Hazelton looks to bring recognition to forgotten Black bartenders

Justin Hazelton is the bar manager and mixologist of Leah & Louise. Photo by Peter Taylor

When Justin Hazelton, the bar manager of Leah & Louise, was preparing to create the new restaurant’s cocktail menu, he began researching African-American bartenders throughout history. He found the history fragmented, and decided he would use his new position to try and educate the public about the Black mixologists that have been forgotten by American history. He shared some of what he’s learned with attendees at our most recent Virtual Happy Hour, where he also demonstrated three cocktails created by Black mixologists. (If you missed the session and want to see video of the happy hour, send Justin a virtual tip of $10 or more via Pay Pal or Cashapp (@justindrinks), share the screen shot with us, and we’ll send you a link.)

Here’s what Justin had to say about the importance of diversity in mixology, the history of Black bartenders in America, and what it means to be behind the bar at Leah & Louise. —Kristen Wile


I‘m the bar manager and bar guy here at Leah & Louise. This is a modern day juke joint. If you don’t know what a juke joint is, it was a place where African-Americans, we could go and we could let our hair down. It was musically based and we had some booze in there. Greg and Subrina (Collier) are the owners of this place, and they came to me with this concept and I was like, ‘Absolutely, I’m down.’ When I think of juke joints, I remember a movie, and hopefully you all have seen it: The Color Purple. Everybody was all over the place, and Shug was singing. It was just this amazing, dope vibe. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to recreate that just like The Color Purple, but we’re going to absolutely make a modern version.

This is also a very food-based place. This is a restaurant as well. Greg, of course, is a two-time James Beard-nominated chef, and you have some great food coming out of here. And I’m making these drinks to match that. So moving forward, we’re going to do some things after business hours that are going to go more deep into the concept of a juke joint.

I worked at 5Church, started there as a bartender, went to bar manager, opened a few restaurants for them, then went over to open Sophia’s Lounge. After there, I went to FS Food Group as the beverage director and then moved on board to bar management, and then came to this opportunity here. And this is a great opportunity and platform and I feel really comfortable here. I think it’s enough about me.

I want to talk about how did I get here? And who paved the way for me to get here? This industry — being a mixologist, a bartender — I’ve been able to walk this road because somebody else has walked this road in a much harder time. And the fight is still going. It’s not easy, though. So I wanted to take this opportunity with Unpretentious Palate to talk about the history of Black mixology. I would not be here without their sacrifice and their hard work.

There are some names. There’s John Dabney, there’s Tom Bullock, who, of course, made The Ideal Bartender in 1917. There’s Cato Alexander, there’s Orsamus Willard. There’s so many names. And the thing is, a lot of us don’t know those names for the very reason the inequalities are here in America. If you’re Black, you get marginalized, you get oppressed — even if you’re doing amazing work. So it’s the same with these names that went unheard. So I’m going to scream their names in this opportunity now.

In this time period, we’re talking about the mid-1800s, some African-Americans actually got out of slavery and started their own bars while slavery was going on. Cato Alexander is one of those individuals. Another bartender was able to write a book. Tom Bullock, The Ideal Bartender. Another bar guy, John Dabney, 41 years of his life was in slavery and still came out and became an excellent bartender and one drink they all loved to make and they were known for was the mint julep.

This is an old cocktail. This cocktail is a staple in American cocktails and Black mixologists, Black barkeeps have been making this drink ever since the beginning. Back in the day, this is one of the few jobs they let African-Americans have. It’s interesting to see that now it’s a really cool job being a mixologist, we don’t see as many African-Americans in this field. And there are many reasons why. I won’t necessarily speculate to all of them. I know we need to have more inclusion in this field and a lot of other ones.”

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