When Robert “Bjorn” Taylor found himself uninspired at his job as a graphic designer — “I was pretty much a typesetter and it was pretty boring,” he says — he returned to his barista roots. A friend told him he’d make more money as a bartender, and Taylor listened. He started out at The Davenport Lounge in the Montrose area of Houston but got serious about his craft when he moved to Austin, working at a series of high-end, “it” restaurants and cocktail bars, like Péché and The Roosevelt Room, where he worked alongside a series of mentors who shaped his knowledge and passion for making handcrafted cocktails. He took that expertise and excitement to ARRIVE Austin, a trendy boutique hotel with three bars, where he served as the general manager.
Today, Taylor is a consultant for restaurants and bars, currently working on a project with James Beard Award-winning BBQ master Aaron Franklin, and crafting a drink menu for a new kissaten-style vinyl listening bar at Hotel Magdalena.
Here, Taylor recounts his journey from rock star bartender to self-proclaimed “cocktail nerd,” and shares how the importance of play helped shape his mixology style. Read on to learn why Taylor chooses Simply Perfect PATRÓN® Tequila and how to make his signature 31st Century Viajero cocktail yourself.
My first bar in Houston was kind of upscale, but still kind of lowbrow because we did Apple Martinis and Lemon Drops — that kind of stuff. All of us bartenders were like rock stars. It was all about us. We were pouring, spitting fire, and doing show-stopping stuff. It was cool for the first four years, but then it got to a point where I was just trying to figure out what I was doing behind the bar. I had no real direction. Then right around 2009, the introduction of a cocktail renaissance started to pop up in Texas. People started realizing what Sasha Petraske and Phil Degra were doing in New York. It was finally reaching us.
Anvil Bar & Refuge opened up and one of their bartenders came to my bar and they were making fun of the fact that we hid all the Amaro Montenegro. At the time I didn’t even really know what an amaro was. It was with all this stuff in the bottom cabinet and I was like, “Dude, what is this?” That’s when it ignited this thing in me. I realized there’s more to this bartending thing than pouring, making tips, and being the star of the show.
Eventually, I figured out how to actually make a drink and talk to people, how to take orders in a bar that’s three lines deep. It’s about not folding under pressure. There have been times when I was so busy and I felt the crushing weight of people, but you can’t let them see that. Being in restaurants changed my career because when I saw a kitchen at full tilt, I realized this is exactly what we bartenders are doing — even in dive bars. We are a well-oiled machine. We are a thing of grace. We are a thing of beauty.
They say that Austin’s weird, but I think I’m weirder. The city isn’t as diverse as Houston so I definitely know that I bring diversity, not just by being a Black male in this field but also by being someone who is African, someone who is well versed in the culture. I grew up in a diverse community. I’ve been eating banh mi since I was in middle school and fresh tamales since I was in elementary. When I make my cocktails, I think of the broader spectrum — still incorporating what I love from Texas, but also the cultures I grew up around and infusing that with my cocktail making.
I like to play. I feel like we’re in a place right now where people are comfortable with higher elevations, and things are so accessible that we should play as much as we can. I sometimes say that the classics are kinda boring. But don’t get me wrong, everything is a riff on the classics. But let’s make a twist on it. Let’s be playful.
My approach to mixology is to go with the times and right now everybody knows everything, so let’s have an element of surprise. Play, experiment, have tastings. When you read “Liquid Intelligence,” figure out how to carbonate something. All that play is how you will feel comfortable being a bartender and writing a cocktail.
I use PATRÓN® Silver for this cocktail that we’re featuring. But I love using PATRÓN Reposado for the taste factor. I think Silver makes one of the nicest sours, like Daisies and Margaritas, but the Reposado is very versatile. It’s a quality product, one you can play with.
PATRÓN is a quality tequila, for sure. It is time-tested. It mixes well, and it drinks well on its own. The team behind is open about what they do and the curation of the product itself. All that transparency makes it a really great company and someone I want to work with. We all know tequila is a big seller, and there can be controversy about how something is made, like how they handle the agave and if they’re taking care of their people. PATRÓN has always taken care of its people and has been mindful of the quality of its products. I have a great respect for the brand.
Try Bjorn’s 31st Century Viajero Cocktail
- 1 ¼ ounces PATRÓN Silver
- ½ ounce blanc vermouth
- ¼ ounce crème de cacao
- ½ ounce ancho chile cinnamon simple syrup*
- ¾ ounce lemon juice
- Lemon peel (for garnish)
- Add the sugar and water into a small saucepan over medium heat.
- Stir until the sugar has dissolved.
- Add cinnamon stick pieces and diced ancho chile, let boil for 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat and allow to sit and infuse for at least 2 to 3 hours.
- Always taste to your liking.
- Strain out the solids and bottle.
*Ancho Chile Cinnamon Simple Syrup Recipe
- 50 grams cinnamon
- 20 grams ancho chile
- 500 milliliters water
- 500 milliliters sugar
This article is sponsored by PATRÓN.