Don’t let the swift and suave movements of your beautifully bearded bartender fool you, making a craft cocktail is not as easy as it looks. You wouldn’t be downing that perfectly balanced daiquiri without the blood, sweat and tears of five dedicated craft cocktail makers. At least that’s how it is here at Odd Birds, a craft cocktail bar tucked away on the corner of Charlotte and Cuna Street in downtown St. Augustine.
The journey of your drink there begins with countless trips to the market to check out which fruits and vegetables are in season. After that, it’s on to brainstorming. Once the rough draft of your drink is thought up, the whole bartending team tastes them. After tastings come tweakings and then tastings again. After the recipes are written, then comes prep, which begins with a bar-back and about 200 lemons needing to be juiced, zested and sliced. After that, a case of limes is awaiting the same fate. If all of that citrus wasn’t torture enough, there are still five more batches of juice to be made, and we haven’t even begun the list of simple syrups.
We aren’t ready to drink just yet; there are still edible garnishes to be made. This drink isn’t complete without a run to a local vintage store for the perfect glass. Now that seasonal daiquiri topped with dried orange slice and orchid is ready for the menu. Making everything in-house is a necessary evil and beauty at this bar, and it’s what sets them apart.
“Craft is hands-on, it’s a process,” said Josue Romero, one of the bartenders at Odd Birds. He has been slinging drinks there since day one. “We are the bartenders’ bar. Our main customers aren’t tourists, they are bartenders and locals.”
Romero got his introduction to the restaurant and bar industry during his bar-backing shifts while he was studying finance at the University of Central Florida. A finance major turned craft cocktail lover — he’s never turning back to the world of numbers.“Chefs and bartenders are synonyms for each other,” he said when describing his love and appreciation for cooking. “They go hand in hand.”
The cocktails at Odd Birds take that same farm-to-table mentality that kitchens have and they bring it to all of their drinks with the term, “market-to-glass.” Romero is a true believer in the farm-to-table movement, and he doesn’t think it should end at the meal. Even though they Odd Birds has a set drink menu, it changes every three months depending on what is in season. They take it up a notch at Odd Birds and research the region they are in for inspiration. They source and buy local and even try to stick to the local spices and flavors, too.
If you don’t know what to order on the menu then Romero has you covered, “Let’s build a cocktail based on your uniqueness. Do you like sweet, tart, smoky, fruity? We want to give you an experience, not just a drink. That is what makes it craft.”
Romero describes Odd Birds as, “a mom-and-pop kind of a place with brothers and sisters, too. We are all different and this place is like our baby.”
What once started as a temporary, six-month pop-up bar is now a permanent watering hole two years later. With a small staff of five bartenders, they are serving up market-to-glass cocktails that taste as beautiful as they look. The only thing that could be prettier than a drink served in a seashell-covered with edible flowers and starfish is the mermaid Romero who made it.
With a menu that rotates as much as theirs it can be easy to find a drink at Odd Birds that you won’t have again anywhere else. How about “Sochu Think You Can Garnish,” a Mizu Sochu drink with Chinese bitters served in a Chinese take-out box?
What has grabbed the attention of the national eye is their attention to detail and dedication to customer experience. In as little as six months, Josue has grown his Instagram to over 11,000 followers just by posting photos of their wacky drinks. A foamy lavender vodka drink served in a small porcelain tub with a floating rubber duck in it has never looked so tasty. They even serve Cocktail Capri Suns which is an adult twist on everyone’s favorite childhood beverage served in a plastic pouch with a bendy straw.
You won’t find your large brand, commercial market products at Odd Birds. There is no way you can order a vodka and Red Bull, but they will do their damndest to re-create it. With a focus on supporting small business, they choose emerging brands over the big boys and give them a chance whenever possible.
“We want to make everything a little different,” Romero said. Craft to Josue and the team at Odd Birds starts well before the drink hits the glass. It starts with the research and with the trips to the market, and with the bar-back and the case of lemons. Its hands-on and thoughtfully curated. It’s worth the risk of choosing quality over price, and it’s unique to the person who ordered it. It’s a rubber duck floating in your drink or a neat pour of whiskey from a small batch distillery no one has heard of. When life hands you lemons, hand them over to Odd Birds, because they will craft the hell out of them.
By Calli Marie | Staff Writer