Bartender Jesse Torres Builds an Extensive Cocktail List at American Elm

The Date With the Night cocktail at American Elm.
The Date With the Night cocktail at American Elm. Linnea Covington

Most restaurants and bars have a few cocktails on their beverage menus, but unless you're going to a speakeasy or craft mixology bar, you don't usually see more than a handful of house drinks, let alone the 32 options you'll encounter at American Elm.

"The cocktail is uniquely American, something we wanted to emphasize with the name American Elm and on the menu," says head bartender Jesse Torres. "Anyone can find something they want to drink on this menu, and it also goes well with the food."

Torres, who just got elected as chapter director of the Colorado Bartenders Guild, says he wanted to have a drink perfect for anyone who came in. When American Elm opened in West Highland this past August, the primary offerings were the well-known classics, something Torres says was meant to act as the basis for training his staff. Now that they have standards such as the Sidecar and Negroni under their belts, it was time to up the ante and start creating unique cocktails to help America Elm stand out.

click to enlarge Nutmeg is the final touch on this dessert cocktail dubbed the Mamacita. - LINNEA COVINGTON
Nutmeg is the final touch on this dessert cocktail dubbed the Mamacita.
Linnea Covington
Torres still offers favorites like a martini and Old Fashioned, stating that "we hope that for the guests it's the best  they have ever had," and there are also six draft beers and an extensive wine list.

"For the second menu, we opened it up to all bartenders to contribute, both for original drinks and the classics they thought should stay," he adds.

The bar manager currently employs six bartenders, plus bar backs, and they all had a say in creating the new list, which launches this week. With an inventory of 200 bottles, the team built a menu that reads from lightest to the most boozy, with sections titled "Warm and Inviting" and "Fresh and Lively," for example. The idea is to guide guests to what they prefer or might be in the mood for, such as the the dark and sour Date With the Night by Travis Gale, the dessert-like Mamacita that Dawn Bower whipped up, or Megan Juntunen's Makahiki, a deep-flavored tiki drink that tastes like a tropical holiday. There's a whole section for hot drinks, too, something Torres is particularly excited about, since in his home state of Texas, the weather rarely got cold enough for a hot buttered rum.
click to enlarge The Makahiki is like a tropical holiday in a glass. - LINNEA COVINGTON
The Makahiki is like a tropical holiday in a glass.
Linnea Covington
Torres came to American Elm after working at Poka Lola Social Club, which helped inspire the tiki portion of his new menu. Originally from San Antonio, Texas, he attended the Culinary Institute of America and later worked as a chef at the now-shuttered L√ľke in his home town. He also helped open the award-winning restaurant Mixtli and Mezcaleria Mixtli, a job that led him deep into agave spirits and history and solidified his passion for bartending.

Though not a native of Denver, Torres says his mother is from Colorado and his grandmother currently lives across the street from American Elm. As the kid of a military dad who also joined the Air Force, Torres has lived all over the world, but he moved to Denver because of his many memorable family visits here.

click to enlarge American Elm stocks about 200 bottles at its bar. - LINNEA COVINGTON
American Elm stocks about 200 bottles at its bar.
Linnea Covington
Torres's leadership extends from the bar to his new role with the Bartenders Guild. "I had been been a member of the San Antonio chapter for a long time but had never wanted to seek office until I moved here," say Torres, who plans on making changes in 2020 when he takes his seat as chapter director. "The thing about bartending is there are so many different people, and there is room for different organizations to meet everyone's needs. I want [members and potential members] to know there is new leadership that cares."

American Elm is located at 4132 West 38th Avenue and just launched its "reverse happy hour" from 9 p.m. to close Monday through Saturday, so stop in for drink and snack deals and taste what's new.
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Linnea Covington moved back to Denver after spending thirteen years in New York City and couldn't be happier to be home, exploring the Mile High and eating as much as possible, especially when it involves pizza or ice cream.
Contact: Linnea Covington