Welcome to Girl Walks Into a Bar, a weekly Gut Check feature that spotlights local bars and bartenders. This week, Alice Telios profiles Sassy Jac's Laura O'Connell. Below is a Q&A with O'Connell, followed by the recipe for the Capri Sun.
In early May, a Soulard dining and drinking sanctuary rose from an empty storefront. Andrew and Jennifer Ladlie opened their first solo restaurant, Sassy Jac's (1730 South Eighth Street; 314-932-1280), and used their first initials, along with their daughter Claira's, to establish Jac's in the city.
Andrew creates what he calls home-style fare with a Southern flair. He says, "We just kind of do what your mom and grandma did, only better." His wife, Jennifer, is the life of the dining and bar space. After living in New Orleans, the duo picked up some NOLA-inspired cocktails. Jennifer and Sassy Jac's prized bartender, Laura O'Connell, have senses of humor that light up the bright restaurant.
O'Connell has worked in the food and beverage industry for more than 25 years. Andrew says she has some crazy antics. Sassy Jac's has a 4 to 7 p.m. happy hour Monday through Friday and during Cardinals games, but other traditions include having O'Connell bring in wigs on Wednesdays and board games to play with patrons. The open and personable O'Connell sat down with Gut Check to share her side of the story and the recipe for the bar's Capri Sun cocktail.
Describe your bartending style in three words: Casual, friendly, attitude. There is a certain attitude that goes along with that too -- sassy attitude.
A girl walks into a bar and orders a ___________ she has just earned your undying admiration. Shot of Jameson. It is brand loyalty, ya know? (She points to an inked mini Jameson bottle on a charm bracelet tattooed around her wrist.) They better sponsor my funeral, too. I want a tent or something.
Other than your own place, where do you go to get a good drink, and what do you get? I have two places. I go to Boogaloo (7344 Manchester Road, Maplewood; 314-645-4803) and Sasha's on Shaw (4069 Shaw Avenue; 314-771-7274). I mean, I am a simple drinker, so I will do Guinness and a shot of Jameson or Tully or Sambuca. At Sasha's, I like to get Champagne there, because it is kind of fancier. And they have cute little cans -- I think it is Martin Scorceses' daughter Sophia. So they are in the cans, and you put a little straw in it and sip your Champagne out of a can. Those are my two favorite bars around town that I frequent a lot on a regular basis.
What's one thing most people don't realize about crafting cocktails? That is such, like a pretentious question. [Her laugh echoes throughout the bar.] I don't think it is really the cocktails. You know, anybody can make a cocktail. For me, bartending is more about the people. Do you know what I mean? It is hardly not about that. You know, there is so much, to me, snobbery in the bartending industry. I just think it is more about the people. Cocktails are easy to make, and most people drink basic cocktails. You know, they will come in and get a gin and tonic or order a specialty drink. Especially in a bar like this, people will just come in and get their regular whatever. But, yeah, crafting cocktails -- you put some ice in a glass and pour it together. It is not rocket science or anything. I think it is more about dealing with the people, and establishing regulars and a clientele.
Who would you most like to drink with? And why? Anthony Bourdain and Queen Elizabeth I. Yeah, that is the top two. Anthony Bourdain is just cool. He seems like such a laid-back, down-to-earth guy. He is knowledgeable, and he has traveled the world. That would be a good time, and he likes to imbibe in libations. Queen Elizabeth I was just an amazing woman and changed the monarchy around, basically. She had one of the longest reigns ever. I could go on forever about her. She was kind of a tyrant in her own way, and she ruled in a man's world, which was odd, extremely odd. She was really smart. Just a cool lady. She took a crumbling country and turned it around to be the strongest country in the world, basically. She built up the navy...I love, love, love history.
What is the most bizarre/stupidest/dumbass drink someone has ordered from you? I don't know if I have an answer for that. People just order the usual, actually. It is the matter in which they order that is unusual. It isn't the drinks. It is the way that they order that is the crazy part. Some people have alcohol and just lose their minds and lose all social graces whatsoever.
What's the coolest/weirdest thing you've witnessed while working at Sassy Jac's? There hasn't been a whole lot of weird. The coolest thing for me is just having neighborhood people come in to eat and come back two nights later and then come back two nights later. Seeing it become a nice neighborhood, family-friendly place. It is not a crazy bar, college-type, bar. We are not going for that. You know the food is excellent. You know for me, having the Soulard Beautification Society come in and give us support, that is pretty cool.
Capri Sun Recipe 1-½ ounces coconut rum 1-½ ounces Blue Curacao 1-½ ounces Sprite ½ ounce pineapple juice Tap of cranberry juice
Mix ingredients together and serve.