The classic rock band The Who has a famous song lyric, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
That sentiment aptly applies to Cameron Masden who has worked his way up the service industry ranks to head barman at The Raymond 1886, one of L.A.’s most respected bar programs.
Masden, a 26-year-old native from Grand Junction, Colorado, has now taken over as head barman at The Raymond 1886, a cozy Pasadena bar with a reputation for making some of the most daring and delicious cocktails in the Southland. The bar, which opened in 2010, has a solid reputation for producing unparalleled original cocktails. Its consistency over the years is impressive, so while Masden is the new boss, it’s still business as usual at 1886.
Chilled chatted with Cameron about his start in the bar industry, what it’s like to head such a stellar program, as well as the bar’s new Tall Tales & Cocktails menu, and the best piece of professional advice he has ever received.
How did you get started in the service industry?
I have been in the service industry for approximately eight years. My first job was serving subs at Jersey Mike’s. After whipping up sandwiches for five years I then got a job at a barbecue restaurant where I started as a busser and moved up the ranks doing any job in house. This is where I started learning about hospitality and details specific to a dining experience.
What is your bartending background?
I definitely got my start behind the bar at Gus’s Barbecue serving mainly beer and wine and a small cocktail list. It was a very good job and a great entry job for the coming years at 1886. It let me make plenty of mistakes and learn the ropes in a dining-oriented environment, while still getting to serve some ice-cold martinis for Happy Hour and learn the dos and don’ts of bar service. When I got started at 1886, I had about a year that I was out of a bar, so I came back into it with no bad habits, a work first attitude I’ve carried with me my entire life, and put my head down and learned everything I could. 1886 has taught me everything I know, and I have learned more than I could have ever hoped for from this job or any other for that matter. It has been a blessing to work here and alongside the people that I spend almost every day.
Did you start right away as a bartender at 1886?
I did not start as a bartender. Something this program tries its best to stay true to, which I very much so support, is that we do not hire bartenders, we hire barbacks. There are a lot of trainings and programs out there these days, and while I respect most all of them, I think it is essential to allow someone to absorb our education, rotations, and good habits before we can expect them to bartend here. We have 1886 specific drinks from many years running, along with classics, and much more, so to ensure our quality and consistency, only the people who have put in the commitment and have shown the proper results will typically tend bar. So, it definitely took me a couple years of putting my head down and working hard and learning everything I could to be where I am now. But the process of getting here, and everything I have experienced here was well worth the time and effort. I would highly recommend it.
What kind of pressure is there to run such a well-respected bar program?
I think the respect that 1886 has isn’t necessarily seen to me as a pressure, but more so as a blessing. Of course, there are high expectations and you definitely don’t want to come up short, but ultimately this program has succeeded by providing high-quality cocktails consistently for many years. Every individual behind the bar to this day has that sole focus as well. So, we look to it as a blessing that we have a reputation that continues to bring so many people around that want to try our cocktails with every new menu that comes out. It is something very special that we don’t take for granted, but in turn, embrace and work hard to live up to the expectations.
How did you feel taking over after the last head barman, Pete Lloyd Jones, left?
Well, very bittersweet. Pete has been a very good friend of mine for quite a few years now and just not having his presence around the bar was definitely a big change. But one I had no other choice but to embrace. This year we had three other members of the bar move on as well so any feeling I had about them leaving had to be shelved to help show the way for the newer members that were up and coming. We still stay in touch with all of our 1886 members so they have always been within reach if we ever need anything.
How would you describe the bar program at The Raymond 1886?
The bar program at 1886 is a craft cocktail program that focuses on technique, cocktail families, consistency and presentation. We strive to achieve a high level of execution while maintaining a professional, yet personable experience.
How would you describe the new Tall Tales & Cocktails menu?
The Tall Tales & Cocktails menu is definitely one for the books. With the turnover in the bar this year, we have so many new brains that are heading the cocktail lists that it has some different styles and ingredients that we are not used to seeing on the recent menus. It is a very creative menu focused on mythology and folklore in which I would recommend you read each cocktail description. Every spirit is tied to a location, and that location is full of myths and legends. A lot of the time, the two become very intertwined, so it was very fun to research and create something that was well represented by every aspect of the cocktail. It is the first menu in the start of a new wave of bartenders here and if nothing else, should excite you for the future to come at 1886.
What inspires your cocktails?
Everything! Sometimes I see a cocktail in a post online and am fixated with a certain thing about it. Sometimes I fall in love with a cocktail or ingredient and just keep trying to figure out exactly what I want out of it. Sometimes, the descriptions, name, and overall theme of a menu will dictate where I find the inspiration. With my Hey, Arnold Palmer, I knew the ingredients I wanted in it before I had any idea of what to create because of what the theme of the menu and subsequently the name of the cocktail signified.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
There are definitely a lot of ups and downs in the service industry. People will take advantage of your hard work and you can easily work yourself down until you feel like quitting. I have been that person a few times in my life. A few years ago, I had a friend who gave me a good bit of advice when I was run down and about to quit my job. The advice was that no matter what is going on, personal, work, or otherwise, just show up. In any capacity you can, just show up. I have always chosen to show up, no matter what I was going through or what situation I needed to show up to, I did, and it has always led me into better situations, so I always have appreciated that little bit of advice.