Chilled 100’s Travis Nass of Phoenix’s Last Drop at the Hermosa Inn Offers Up His Eight Must-Visit Local Bars
“I’m lucky enough to be able to travel a lot with my work,” says Travis Nass, “and I can honestly say I haven’t seen anything anywhere the way it’s going on here.”
Travis Nass, one of the Chilled 100, is the bartender at The Last Drop, the bar at the historic Hermosa Inn in the aptly-named Paradise Valley in Phoenix, Arizona. Travis knows bars — and cocktails — as the awards displayed behind his bar prove. Best Cocktail Program 2014 is just one of them; Travis has also been inducted into the Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame. So what’s he doing that’s so special?
“Nothing,” he says modestly, for despite his often flamboyant appearance Travis is a thoughtful and quietly-spoken man. “I don’t think there’s anything I can do with cocktails that hasn’t been done before. We use fresh ingredients, local produce bought from local vendors, seasonal produce. We use as much as we can from the hotel’s own organic garden, like the raspberries from our garden in our Raspberry Mule Mocktail.” (The Raspberry Mule recently won an award as Best Mocktail in Phoenix.)
“We only have a small bar so my aim is to have the best collection of spirits in the smallest number of bottles. Our motto here is that we give you the best-tasting ingredients we can, whether we produce it or buy it,” says Travis. This is a guy who lives and breathes cocktails. As he says, “I don’t have hobbies so, when I’m not making cocktails, I’m at home reading about them, drinking them, experimenting with them.”
But he does get to travel, and he thinks the Phoenix cocktail scene is as good as anywhere in the USA right now. “The Phoenix cocktail scene is going through a great time. We’ve got our third Arizona Cocktail Week this year. It was a slow build for awhile because of the economy but in the last four years or so people have really been getting on board with craft cocktails.’”
One of Travis’s own signature – and best – cocktails is one he created called El Ultimo. “For me,” he says, “El Ultimo is the desert in a glass. It smells like the desert after a rainstorm. I use the Mexican spirit sotol, which comes from Chihuahua. It’s less well-known than tequila, which comes from Jalisco, or mezcal, which comes mainly from Oaxaca. Instead of using the blue agave, as they do for tequila, or the maguey, which is another agave they use for mezcal, sotol is made from the desert spoon cactus. Ultimo has a bit of a tobacco taste to it as well. We also use our own chipotle spirit in El Ultimo. I make my own chipotle vodka as well.”
Nass continues, “Our most popular drinks are the Hermosa Mule and the Mezcal Mango Madness. Something you see more of in Phoenix is spicy drinks. The Mezcal Mango Madness has a bright red Fresno chili in it, which not only adds to the taste – it looks good too. The Spiced Fig is another of my favorites. That’s Yamazaki 12-year-old whiskey, Ancho Reyes, fig-infused balsamic vinegar, garnished with grapefruit.”
We ask Travis if he minds telling us what he thinks are the best cocktail bars in Phoenix, apart from The Last Drop. “Of course not,” he shares. “With the other bars in Phoenix I feel it isn’t as much a rivalry as a collaboration.”
The Last Drop where Travis holds court is a must-visit. But here, in purely alphabetical order, are some of the other Phoenix bars that Travis rates highly:
Bitter and Twisted
Nass’s take: “Bitter and Twisted is doing some great things.”
Details: Owned and run by Ross Simon, Bitter and Twisted is in the former Prohibition HQ in downtown Phoenix. It’s also won awards for Best Cocktail Menu and Best Cocktail Bar, and Ross is one of the co-founders of Arizona Cocktail Week.
Nass’s take: “It’s a great place, a rum bar. I like places that specialize like that so they really know their rum.”
Details: Breadfruit boasts the best rum collection in Arizona, including rums from Jamaica, Antigua, Guatemala, Guyana, Venezuela, Martinique, Nicaragua… and even Tennessee.
Citizen Public House
Nass’s take: “This is the place to go for barrel-aged cocktails.”
Details: The Citizen has been making barrel-aged cocktails for several years, and favorites include a much-praised Sea Salt Barrel-Aged Negroni and the Fernet-chu Picchu, which includes barrel-aged Pisco Portón, the Peruvian brandy that is by law not allowed to be barrel-aged. Peruvian law, that is, not Arizona’s.
Nass’s take: “This place is great for classic old-time cocktails.”
Details: The restaurant fuses Italian, Mexican and American Southwest cuisine, and as well as their old-time cocktails they have innovative creations like the One (Upon a) Time which combines pisco pineapple cordial, hand-infused Lillet, and coca leaves – and is limited to one per customer per visit.
Nass’s take: “This is just round the corner from us and they have a great whiskey selection.”
Details: The Gladly has Negronis on tap, does a Thai Margarita, and has over 230 whiskies at the bar.
Nass’s take: “Shady’s is a bit of a dive bar but they make a decent cocktail. It’s a good place to go if you don’t feel like being fancy.”
Nass’s take: “The Windsor isn’t too far from us and is more of a neighborhood bar that also does great cocktails.”
Details: Cocktails all cost $10 and are numbered rather than named. Shout for a 19 and you’ll get Thai tea-infused rum, Smith & Cross Navy Strength Rum, house almond orgeat syrup, and fresh lime. Not bad for a neighborhood bar.
These were just a handful of Travis’s great Phoenix bar recommendations. Call in at The Last Drop and he’ll be happy to make some personal suggestions based on your taste. The bar, by the way, is named after a painting by cowboy artist Lon Magargee who once called the Hermosa Inn home. He also liked a drink.