Behind the Bar | Meet Stephanie Tomaiko of Nuevo Modern Mexican and Tequila Bar Restaurant
You Don’t Know Enough About Tequila
by Claude Christensen
You won’t treat tequila the same after sitting down at Nuevo’s tequila bar.
Serving an extensive array of artisanal tequilas, the bartenders at Nuevo can teach you to enjoy an alcohol whose quality and character is often underappreciated. Stephanie Tomaiko bartends most nights at Nuevo. She knows her tequila and was more than happy to give a small lesson.
I’m really impressed with our Anejo Manhattan, an interesting twist on the classic cocktail. The owners made a trip to Mexico and the El Mayor distillery and selected a particular tequila aged in American oak barrels, like bourbon. Because it was aged in American oak, the tequila has a very oaky aroma. But it’s still a tequila and the effect is very different. Like the traditional manhattan, we mix the tequila in our anejo manhattan with sweet vermouth and a dash of bitters and top it off with a Luxardo Maraschino cherry. I think it’s delicious!
How long have you been bartending and how often do you bartend? Is there anything you particularly enjoy about working at Nuevo?
I work at Nuevo a lot! I’ve been here for three years and Nuevo’s only been open for about four. I’m strictly a pm bartender, and I’m here every Friday and Saturday. I also work most weeknights. I used to work at Wise Guys on Main Street, which is a bit more traditional, but I love working at Nuevo. The staff and the owners, Lisa and Zack Hirt, are wonderful, and I really enjoy serving the customers that come to our restaurant. We’re like a tightly-knit family.
What’s something you learned while bartending that you wouldn’t have otherwise?
At Nuevo? I’ve learned a lot about tequila that I didn’t know before. I used to think that Jose Cuervo Gold was the way to go, but it’s not. The gold color is just from food coloring. We don’t even sell Jose Cuervo Gold. And that’s why learning the process of how tequila is made and how similar that process is to other aging spirits, like bourbon, or whiskey, or wine, is important. There’s so much that goes into making a tequila, from the location, the plant, the earth, the environment, how long it’s aged for and at what temperature. Because Mexico is hot, it usually doesn’t take tequila as long to age as other spirits.
The highest I think I’ve heard tequila being aged for is six years. You also have different types of tequila. There’s blanco tequila, which is distilled and then bottled immediately, and reposado, which is bottled after about three months of aging. And then there’s añejo, which takes about 6 months to a year to age. Tequila gets darker the longer it ages.
Anything you’ve learned about people since you started bartending?
I really enjoy getting the chance to talk to people. People come to talk about tough things that happen and relax and tell stories. We have the hospital nearby. But the mood almost always changes when you get to the bar. It’s uplifting. When you’re bartending, you’re entertaining and you have to always engage. But it’s also an opportunity to hear some great stories and to commiserate. I’m often in a better mood after bartending. After two drinks, you can really get to know somebody.
Where do you go when you’re not at Nuevo?
I think most of the Nuevo staff goes to Frank’s Place, on West Market. We all live here [at Nuevo] but we also kind of live part-time there as well.
What was your first night like?
It was a weekend. It was crazy. It was sink-or-swim. But I did it and I thought I could do it again, which is why I kept bartending.
Best tip you’ve ever received?
There was a large party of people who had just come out of a funeral. Their spirits were kind of broken, but it was touching how much they gave after being so upset. It was a big tip. There was also one time a lot of girls, a bridal party, came in. A bunch of boys they knew came in later and crashed their party and threw money around.
Where are you from?
Tallmadge. It used to be dry when I was growing up there, though they’re now a wet city! On Tallmadge avenue, there was a strip joint where one half was Tallmadge, the other Akron. If you were on the Tallmadge side, you couldn’t drink. It’s not like that anymore. After that, I moved to Akron. I’ve been here for about eight years, living in the Highland Square neighborhood. I like Akron. It’s a small city, but it has a lot going for it.
What do you do outside of Nuevo?
I love films. And I watch a lot of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” I also try to paint, though I’m not going to claim I’m any good!
(featured photo courtesy of Nuevo Modern Mexican and Tequila Bar Restaurant)
Claude Christensen can mix two kinds of cocktails: gin and tonics, and Moscow Mules. He’s got a lot to learn.