Bartenders & Baristas: Carson Quinn at Roka Akor
Bartender Carson Quinn of Roka Akor in Scottsdale is the kind of guy women -- and some men -- are intimidated by. He's attractive, well-traveled and intelligent, with a very European outlook and the slight drink snobbery that comes with being a good bartender (Three Olives Grape instead of fresh juice? Heaven forbid!). But underneath the smooth veneer, Quinn's a laid-back Midwest native who can talk your ear off with crazy stories about his clubbing misadventures and his former life in overnight room service. So pull up a chair, grab a beer and read on...
Chow Bella: How long have you been bartending?
Carson Quinn: I started bartending the day I turned 21, at the Ritz-Carlton.
CB: What’s your favorite drink to make?
CQ: I tend to make drinks for a woman’s palate. My favorite drink to make right now is a watermelon martini. It’s shochu, lemon juice, gum syrup and fresh watermelon. Any drink we can make with fresh juice, we do. For the watermelon martini, we’ll cut a watermelon in half and I’ll scoop out big chunks and shake it up with ice to break them up. It tastes like you’re eating a fresh watermelon…there’s no watermelon Pucker in there.
CB: What will we catch you drinking on your night off?
CQ: Right now I like mules a lot. It’s basically something that’ll have vodka and ginger beer in it. It’s fun. I also drink a lot of sake and shochu.
CB: What’s the difference between sake and shochu?
CQ: Shochu is a neutral spirit, similar to vodka. It’s distilled, but it can be distilled from any vegetable starch – grains, potatoes, brown sugar…Sake is brewed and it’s only made from rice. All of our sakes are served chilled, except one, which is served hot. Shochu doesn’t need to be chilled, and it can vary from 20-40% alcohol.
CB: Anyone ever ask you to make a drink you’d never heard of?
CQ: Sure. The "Flaming Viking," from Cheers. And we had a guy in here the other night who wanted a Pearl Harbor -- at a Japanese Restaurant. I’d never heard of it but we looked it up and it did exist. But he thought he was being funny. He said, “I was wondering if you guys would get that!”
CB: What do you think of Phoenix -- love it, or leave it?
CQ: I’ll probably leave it. I don’t think it’s going in the direction that people thought it was going five years ago. I had a lot of hope for Phoenix. It was getting very artsy and there was a lot of stuff happening downtown, but I guess it’s just maturing too slow for me.
CB: What’s your favorite foreign city?
CQ: Indonesia. And I liked Osaka. It’s like a city made out of toys. You’re up in the 35th floor of the Swiss Hotel, and you’re looking down at the city and everything is really, really clean. All the streets are very black and the painted lines are very yellow and everything has its own little color and shape…like a model.
CB: Ok, it's story time. Give us a good one.
CQ: I was a patron one night at the Merc Bar and I was completely drunk, stumbling around, and I saw [my future wife] walking in. I grabbed her and picked her up and spun her around, set her back down and I slurred, “wanna get married” and she nodded yes and I stumbled away. I’d forgotten all about that until months later when we’re going into the courthouse and she goes “do you remember one night you were really drunk and you came stumbling out of the bar, picked me up and asked me if I wanted to get married? Kinda funny now, isn’t it?”
CB: What was the strangest on-the-job experience you’ve ever had?
CQ: Before I was a bartender, I worked overnight room service at the Ritz...One night I get a call, about three in the morning, from Oliver Stone. He orders a fruit plate. I go up to his room and he opens the door in his bathrobe. So I come into his room with the cart and I shut the door. He says to me “It’s such a shame.” And I said, “what’s that, sir?” He says, “all I really wanted to do was go skinny dipping in the pool, but it seems somebody beat me to it.” I look down and there’s 2 people skinny dipping in the pool. At this point it gets really awkward because he’s in a bathrobe and he’s talking about how he wants to be naked.