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Crafting Cocktails

Manny Hinojosa stirs (and shakes up) the bar scene from Danville to Vegas.


Photos by Jessamyn Photography Looking for a fun drink? How about a spritzy gin cocktail spiked with lemongrass, black pepper, and a sprig of Thai basil? Manny Hinojosa stirred up this—and the crowd—at a recent celebrity chef dinner at Bridges in Danville. The Brentwood mixologist, who first gained fame at Walnut Creek Yacht Club, is now a national star with signature drinks at P.F. Chang’s and CPK. But you can still order his cutting-edge concoctions at watering holes closer to home, including Lafayette’s Rustic Tavern and Walnut Creek’s Sunol Ridge.

Q: What makes a good cocktail?

A: Three ingredients: sweet, citrus, and spirits. If you don’t have them in balance, it will taste like medicine.

Q: How about martinis?

A: Craft gin is making a comeback—and it’s stir, not shake. Shaking is smooth because it dilutes. That’s for people who don’t like the taste of alcohol.

Q: What drew you to bartending?

A: My dad was a politician in Mexico City, so he always hosted big parties. Once, he asked me, “Do you want to make some cocktails?” I did. They gave me tips. And that’s how it all started.

Q: When you’re training, what’s the first thing you tell a new bartender?

A: This is not a job: This is showtime. Make those cocktails fast, tasty, balanced, and good looking.

Q: First drink?

A: Coke and Bacardi. Coca-Cola is sweeter in Mexico, and when you’re 16 years old, who’s not going to like that?

Q: You didn’t like tequila?

A: Back then, they were raw and very cheap. It wasn’t cool. Eventually, tequila became like bourbon is in the United States—better barrel aging and more palatable. Craft bourbon is hot right now. It’s a classic American product.

Q: Any fond memories of the Yacht Club?

A: It’s the early 2000s, and there is this really fit, really pretty lady. She has a few cocktails, we chat, and she tells me she was a 1984 Olympic gymnast. When I go take care of some other customers, she gets up and does a cartwheel on top of the bar. The customers cheer, but I almost have a heart attack.

For hip cocktail recipes designed by Hinojosa, scroll down.



Makes 1 cocktail

2 ounces tequila (preferably Corzo Reposado) 

1 ½ ounces Latini syrup (see below)
1 ounces fresh lime juice 

Martini glass

For Latini syrup:
2 cups water 

1 ½ cups sugar
8 Guajillo or New Mexico dried chiles
1 pasilla chile

3 slices of orange
3 ounces fresh lime juice

For Latini syrup: In a sauce pan, bring water, sugar, chile, orange, and lime juice to a boil, and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Cool and strain into a glass container. Keep refrigerated. When ready to serve, vigorously shake tequila, Latini syrup, and lime juice and strain into a chilled martini glass.



Makes 1 cocktail

1 ½ ounces cognac
½ ounce St. Germain liqueur
½ ounce vanilla syrup
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
Cinnamon sugar (1 cup sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon)
Martini glass
Lemon twist


To make vanilla syrup, bring 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, and 1 fresh split vanilla bean to a boil, and simmer gently for 5 minutes. When ready to serve, vigorously shake cognac, St. Germain, vanilla syrup, and lemon juice. Wet rim of martini glass with lemon juice and place, rim down, on a plate with cinnamon sugar to coat. Strain cocktail into chilled martini glass and garnish with lemon twist.



Makes 1 cocktail

5 green grapes
1 ½ ounces St. Germain liqueur
½ ounce lemon juice
1 Collins glass
3 ounces sparkling wine
2 grapes on toothpick
1 lemon wheel

In a mixing glass, muddle grapes. Add St. Germain, lemon juice, and enough ice to fill Collins glass. Shake, pour into Collins glass, and top with sparkling wine. Garnish with grapes and lemon wheel.

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