Welcome Diner's Mike Pantoja Makes Ginger Beer and More from Scratch
Back in the old days of Welcome Diner, if you were looking for a drink, you had your choice of two beers on draft and the ubiquitous hurricane, accompanied by shouting and banging when ordered. Now with Mike Pantoja on board, the Phoenix spot has become as much about its attention to quality and creativity on the drink menu as it has the food menu. Also like the food menu, Pantoja is taking care to concoct each drink the right way by experimenting constantly and making his own tonic, ginger beer, grenadine, and bitters.
Heather Hoch The Kentucky Thoroughbred is topped off with housemade ginger beer.
Pantoja doesn't mind admitting that he's a self-taught bartender, but you also have to know that he's done his homework. He's read Joy of Mixology and Imbibe, but also frequents Liquor.com for new ideas. Apart from that, he credits his love of geeking out with chef and owner Michael Babcock over ingredients and new techniques.
Pantoja and Babcock have been friends for about ten years, but it wasn't until recently that Pantoja took on the task of instituting a cocktail program at the restaurant. With extremely limited space, he makes due by a discerning selection of liquors with one bourbon, one white rums, one aged rum, one gin, one vodka, one tequila, one cachaça, a handful of liquors, and scratch-made mixers. That means if you've just got to have Jack Daniels with your Coke, you should probably head elsewhere.
"We don't have the space for Jack Daniels," he explains, though he doesn't seem too broken up about it. He prefers the Four Roses bourbon they stock instead, though he says he would like to start stocking locally-distilled spirits like Copper City Bourbon.
As for just how he chooses which liquor gets to take up the precious little shelf space behind his bar, he says "tasting is the best part," though he focuses on giving business to small batch distilleries. He feels the farm-to-table mentality of the food at Welcome Diner is reflected in the cocktails when he uses craft spirits from the little guys.
Heather Hoch Pantoja's light and fruity Batida Rosa and spicy, yet sweet Kentucky Thoroughbred.