Daniel Gonzales is a lot of things—bar manager and “master mixologist” at the Hotel St. Francis’ Secreto Lounge, father, foodie and the champion of this year’s national Shake it Up! mixed-drink competition in Las Vegas, Nev. Gonzales won the competition with the Primavera, an unexpected melding of apples, rosemary, whiskey and aged balsamic vinegar, but 6pm this Thursday, April 29, the party (Secreto Lounge, 210 Don Gaspar Ave.) is in honor of his qualifying concoction, the Spicy Secreto: jalapeños, red chile, cachaça, St. Germain. Visit
.com for recipes.
SFR: How’d you start bartending?
I was in college, and my brother’s friend owned a bar, so the day I turned 21, I started working in a bar. When I graduated college, I didn’t want to get a real job or go back to school, so I went to Vegas and I just decided that was the career I wanted. I loved it.
Tell me about this competition.
I won a Bombay Sapphire “Most Inspired Bartender” competition, which got me in GQ magazine twice. I hadn’t competed for about a year and a half when I went back to Vegas for the Shake it Up!, which is a huge national competition. [In] the second round, they presented a secret ingredient, which was balsamic vinegar. I worked in an Italian restaurant—it was an old Sicilian family that always brought back crazy balsamics—so I had a really good palate for balsamics. And then I won!
Where do you find inspiration?
It sounds a little silly, but that particular cocktail—this is just an example: When my son was very little, I knew I was going to enter that competition, and I was thinking of ideas. I walked out and the sun was rising; it was really early in Vegas, and in Vegas there’s tons of rosemary. It grows everywhere. The bees were buzzing, and there was that smell of sweet, dewy rosemary and the color of the sunset—and that moment I wanted to capture and give to my customers.
Are you a foodie, too?
I love food! I want to be a chef someday. But with kids and stuff, this is the train I’m riding.
What’s the hardest drink to make?
Water. Ice water. [Laughs] It’s annoying! No, the hardest drink on our list right now I think would probably be…the Healthy Harvey.
What do you drink?
I drink a lot of bourbon and tequila. If I know I’m getting a good cocktail, I like a Negroni—that’s my favorite cocktail. Aviations, I love Aviations. Those are my two favorites.
I’ve never heard of that.
You’ve never had an Aviation? Oh, they’re fantastic. Do you want one?
Sure. I was going to ask for the Primavera, but then I looked at the ingredient list.
We don’t make that on a regular basis.
How much would it cost if you did make it?
I don’t know. It depends on where the 25-year-old balsamic came from.
How do you test a new drink? On your wife?
[Laughs, a lot] Oh, gosh.
Bourbon and tequila: What are the best ones?
The best I’ve had, bourbon, is Blanton’s. Tequila…ooh, gosh, that’s really hard. Commercially, it’s probably Don Julio Añejo. That’s my personal favorite. I’ll probably get in trouble for saying that, but I don’t care! [Laughs]