Bustling around his front yard, David Alan picks a Meyer lemon from a tree and some Mexican mint marigold from his garden. Inside his kitchen, homemade simple syrup is cooling on the stove while he rummages around for cocktail utensils. A refreshing citrus scent fills the space as he mixes lemon juice and simple syrup with gin and soda. His Tom Collins variation is a light, slightly tart and invigorating cocktail, the kind you want to sip on a long, hot summer day.
“This is the style of drinks I love to do—super simple,” he said, after garnishing his concoction. “I like to make drinks that I don’t have to think too much to enjoy.”
Although Alan is not a pioneer of the craft cocktail movement, he certainly has been influential in introducing Texas to a whole new world of booze. A professional bartender with 15 years of experience working in the service industry, Alan has contributed to the state’s burgeoning cocktail scene through his drink consulting, involvement with the Austin chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild, and representing St. Germain as Texas’ brand ambassador.
Alan’s blog, Tipsy Texan, may have started as “just fun and games” in 2007, but it soon transformed into a wellspring of cocktail information for Texans. In the spring of 2010, he and colleague Lara Nixon launched Tipsy Tech and began teaching intensive 12-week courses showcasing the history of cocktails and various mixology skills. Alan has taught consumers and enthusiasts alike, including L Style cover girl Joyce Garrison, Drink.Well owners Michael and Jessica Sanders, and Contigo owner Ben Edgerton.
Alan’s favorite part of bartending is the instant gratification of making someone happy. “After every transaction in the hospitality business, you can have a happy outcome. In most businesses it’s not like that,” he said.
Alan’s extensive Texas cocktail knowledge came together in his debut book, Tipsy Texan: Spirits and Cocktails from the Lone Star State. Due out this summer, the book features classic drink recipes with a regional twist as well as interviews with local distillers and bartenders. It emphasizes the use of Texas’ wonderful assortment of seasonal produce, including the bountiful ruby red grapefruit. “Texas’ cocktail community and local spirits business have grown so much in the last few years, but there hasn’t been a book from our perspective,” he said about his inspiration for the book.
Katz’s Never Kloses
Fresh out of high school in 1996, Alan began his service industry career at a beloved downtown Austin establishment, Katz’s Deli. “It was at Katz’s where I fell in love with the service industry,” he said. Starting off as a busboy at the 24/7 deli, he worked long nights with customers lining out the door from 9 p.m. till 3 a.m. “It was like getting thrown into a cauldron.”
Barry Katz, the owner’s son, was not only Alan’s manager but also his mentor. “Barry was my first hero in the restaurant business.” After Alan decided to pause his studies at the University of Texas at Austin, Katz encouraged him to attend culinary school at Austin Community College in 1997.
Barry launched a Houston location, inviting Alan to help him build the new restaurant. In 2000, he moved to Houston to train kitchen staff, eventually becoming a senior manager. “I ended up working in the front of the house and I felt like I found my calling,” he said. Alan made it his goal to not receive any negative remarks in the business comment box. He was especially good at smoothing over situations his co-workers deemed impossible. “They would give me the worst situations, like a Jewish grandmother who already thinks her matzo balls are better than yours, and orders it just to prove it and then it came with a hair in it,” he said.
After three years managing the Houston Katz’s location, Alan came back to Austin in 2003 to finish his degree at UT. He began marketing for a local coffee roaster, Texas Coffee Traders, selling coffee at the Farmer’s Market every Saturday.
Alan was introduced to the craft coffee trade before it was big in Austin. Surprisingly, coffee unlocked the world of fine-dining restaurants and food-related charity events for him. Austin’s Farmer’s Market also opened his eyes to the beauty of locally raised and grown food, leading him to a healthier lifestyle.
It’s also where Alan met his partner of seven years, Joe Eifler. They met in 2005, when he stopped by the coffee stand at the Farmer’s Market. Eifler was enamored of Alan’s energy and enthusiasm when talking about coffee chaff with a customer. “I love that he’s driven and passionate,” Eifler said. Their first date was at Capital Brasserie, which led to many more dates, making dinner and drinks for each other. “Joe was dreamy to me,” said Alan, describing his first meeting with Eifler.
Crème de la Craft
Oddly enough, it was Eifler who serendipitously bought a book called The Craft of the Cocktail, by Dale DeGroff, at Half Price Books in 2007 that expanded Alan’s knowledge on classic cocktails. “Oh how that book changed my life,” he said. The couple began making drinks from the recipes in the book for each other and for friends, making notes along the margins of what they liked about each recipe. The book sparked a trip to New Orleans to meet DeGroff at the Tales of the Cocktail conference, where they were first introduced to a community of craft cocktail enthusiasts. Inspired by the trip, Alan made it his mission to create every drink in the book and blog about it, similar to the Julie & Julia film/project, calling it the Dale/David project. He only reached drink recipe 125 out of 500, but it was enough to influence him.
Alan’s first bartending gig was working with Direct Events at venues like The Backyard and La Zona Rosa. “My first professional bartending job was making Jack and Coke for Black Crowes fans. It sounds so tragic, but it was important.” He went on to say that he learned to keep his head clear to make drinks quickly for thirsty crowds.
Through his involvement with the Sustainable Food Center and his connections through the coffee business, Alan began to bartend at many charity events, including SFC’s Farm to Plate and AMOA-Arthouse’s La Dolce Vita Food and Wine Festival. He helped introduce cocktails to many fundraising events that previously had served only beer or wine.
Alan has literally participated in hundreds of events, but there’s one he says was the most touching. His friend Daniel Curtis had a bad accident that left him quadriplegic. “After doing a ton of charity fundraisers, it was really moving doing a fundraiser where the beneficiary was a friend of yours,” he said about the Pay it Forward event.
Around this time Alan befriended Bill Norris, a locally renowned mixologist. “About the time David and I met was the birth of a renaissance in cocktail culture in Austin and Texas in general,” Norris said. “He’s been one of the driving forces behind that.”
Norris, now beverage director for Alamo Drafthouse and companies, consulted for Annie’s Café and Bar. In 2009, he recommended Alan for the restaurant’s bar manager position. “It’s impossible not to like David. He’s enthusiastic about the industry, he’s passionate about alcohol and cocktails and he’s just generally a good guy.” With Norris’ referral, Alan was hired as a bar manager at Annie’s.
He was selling coffee by day and slinging drinks by night. “By 2009, it was apparent that my cocktail hobby was overtaking my coffee job,” he observed.
“I knew I was gay before I knew what the word was,” Alan said. He had always thought the boys in his class were cute, but it wasn’t till he was a junior in high school that he realized he had romantic feelings for a classmate. By the time Alan was a senior, he was as “out as he could be without saying it.”
He never really had to come out to his family. His mom claims to have known he was gay since he was a boy. When he was a college freshman, she asked him why he hadn’t told her yet. “Well, I guess you know now,” he responded. His mom was so supportive that she was even a legal guardian of Alan’s then-boyfriend, because he had been kicked out of his house for being gay. “My mom is a pretty progressive lady,” he said.
Boy Scouts played an important role in Alan’s adolescence. He completed his Eagle Scout requirements right on his 18th birthday. Time went on, and Alan was not presented with his Eagle Award. His scoutmaster told him he would present his award once he followed tradition and organized his own Court of Honor ceremony. “I’m one of the very few, if not the only, Eagle Scout to have his Eagle Scout Court of Honor in a bar,” he joked. After the nightclub above Katz’s closed, Alan thought it would be a great place to have his ceremony. He rounded up all his old Scout buddies and invited Troop 395 to his Eagle Scout Court of Honor ceremony, in which, at the age of 22, he was finally presented with his award.
Alan always assumed he was going to be a Boy Scout mentor and be able to pass down his pocketknife to his nephews. But the Scouts’ anti-gay stance has prevented him from fulfilling his goals. “It’s tragic and an abomination of what the Scouts have done,” he said. “Their position on gays is reprehensible.”
When Alan and Eifler aren’t working, they love to host dinner parties and entertain friends and family. Oftentimes, they are either eating dinner outside with their shepherd-mix dog Jigger, or having a drink with neighbors.
For now, Alan is focusing on his book debut on June 11 but hopes to open his own bar in the near future. So far, his career has changed in many unexpected ways. He can’t wait to see how it will evolve in the coming years. “There’s a lot more to the bar industry than meets the eye. We may look like booze-drinking party animals, which is kind of true,” he said with a laugh, “but it’s a lot deeper than that. We take what we do seriously.”