On the Line: Roland Barrera and Joey Oehrlein of Casa, Part One
On the Line is more than just restaurant chefs. It's individuals with a vision. People who specialize in giving the best possible experience to their guests. Individuals who are business savvy and give exemplary service all blended together. It's subjects like Roland and Joey of a speakeasy named Casa. Roland is one of the founders, while Joey keeps clients smiling with his original concoctions.
Describe Casa to someone who's never been.
Roland: Casa is a 1940s French and Spanish inspired classic cocktail lounge that was designed to make you feel like you were just transported to your great grandfather's local lounge somewhere in France or New York.
What do you keep the capacity at?
Roland: Ideally, we would love to keep it around 45, max. It all depends which days we are working with, too. We do offer live music nightly, and some artists have larger draws than others. In most cases, we'd like to accommodate these guests as much as we can without compromising the room's intimate vibe. We do our best to gauge the room and permit entry accordingly.
Favorite places to eat/drink:
Roland: Locally, I'd have to say Cannery or A Bar. Nationally, I'd have to say Kingfish, Milk & Honey or PDT.
Joey: Opposite of the cocktails I make at the bar, I like to drink very simple, beer and whisky (neat). So I don't really discriminate my watering holes. As far as eating goes, I like San Shi Go sushi and Bistango (it's where my wife and I had our first date).
Best tip for an aspiring bartender.
Joey:Always be continuing your drink education. You have to look backwards and forward at the same time. There are so many classics that have, and continue to pave the way for today's drinks.
The design of Casa is unique in this area. How did you know the aesthetics would appeal to an Orange County crowd?
Roland: Even though Orange County has a shortage of history and/or culture . . .our parents or grandparents all migrated here and usually derived from some other region that was full of history, early American culture and, was more than likely rich in pre mid-century design.
Our clientele consists of pro athletes from the action sports industry, great designers that work in global apparel brands as well as few sprinkled in models from the fashion and apparel markets. All that being said, we all have more than likely been to Europe or New York on trips or tradeshows and always come back thinking of how cool that bar was, or that little 200-year-old dive you just so happen to stumble across. As we get older, I think (especially around here) we are yearning for vintage design, vintage channel and vintage sound in our day-to-day music selections. So we drive to LA and lurk around there awhile to get our fill. Some of us make the bad decision to drink and drive, and we all know how that ends! Well, Casa has made its best efforts to fill that void without a 70-mile round trip.
Now that you've been open a while, have you changed anything since opening?
Roland: We haven't changed much. If anything, we have added another position to our hosts and front end team. We now call all of our RSVPs day of before 8 p.m. to either confirm, move or deny their desired entry time. The patrons we deny are typically due to our strict dress code, or lager parties that Casa simply cannot accommodate.
Most undervalued ingredient:
Joey: I would have to say fresh juice. There is absolutely no substitute, and it really brings cocktails to the next level. I just can't and won't purchase it.
Tell us about your most popular cocktail. Inspiration, ingredients, etc.
Joey: It would be difficult to pick just one. I like to mix things up and keep it fresh, so the popularity of cocktails changes frequently. Right now, for an original cocktail I would say the "Sunburn". An aloe vera liquor called Chareau hit the market, and I was challenged to make something around it. It has tequila, Chareau, lime juice, green bell pepper and firewater habanero bitters. The name fits the flavor profile perfectly. Just as if you actually had a sunburn and were trying to soothe it.
Let's discuss the nightly entertainment. Are there regular acts?
Yes, we do have live music nightly. If he isn't touring, you can catch Steve Maggiora on Sunday nights. Not only is Steve one of the best pianists/producers/entertainers around, but he also hosts, showcases and supports three to four local artists every Sunday night as well. On Tuesday nights, you can catch pianist Mr. Jacques Vanders playing everything from early ragtime to Edith and Frank. Jacques also takes requests, and 11 times out of 12 he will nail it.
How do you decide on the vibe?
Roland: The cocktails decide the vibe, mostly. What would you be listening to if you were sipping a Sazarac, Manahattan or Gin Fizz? Not to mention that my father was an integral part of the idea. He fronted a big band and orchestra in the 50s, 60s and 70s before I was born. Listening to change in music/genres from all these decades has a ton to do with the inspiration for the stage at Casa.
You will hear anything from live Mariachis, Soul, R & B, Funk, Classic Motown, Bebop, Flamenco and Fresh Gypsy Jazz. Orange County simply does not offer all these genres half announced, and half unannounced in one room on a nightly basis. To me, this is real heartfelt music that we really cannot go without. If we did, we would become stale, far less creative, inspired to live or lack the knowledge that would help inspire others to be better artists. We also wouldn't be able to provide live, soulful music and give back to the drought of culture that exists today in the local market as we know it.
How long does daily bar prep take, and what does it entail?
Joey: Daily bar prep takes about two hours. We start by always squeezing fresh juice. We have a number of different house syrups that we use, and each one plays an important roll in making a cocktail the best it can be (i.e. turbinado, thyme, lavender honey, or just simple sugar.) So those are always being tasted and replenished. Many different garnishes are used, ranging from candied ginger to pineapple leaves to watermelon.
A Spanish-style sangria is always served, so that is usually being prepared. There are different lights throughout the bar that need to be either dimmed or lit. The list really goes on and on. A lot of hard work goes into this bar every day, but it is all worth it when you make someone a cocktail. They take a sip and are forcing strangers to try their drink because it's so good, "You have to try this!"
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
Roland: Ha! Huevos rancheros.
Weirdest customer request:
Roland: - Probably played a song with dub step in it or played that song with Lil' Jon-- Turn Down for Somethingerother.
Joey: A blended margarita on the rocks. I did not do it. We don't use blenders. Plus, that would be a super watered down drink that would be just horrible. But if that's what someone wants, that's what they will get.
Casa is located at 820 W 19th St, Costa Mesa, www.casacostamesa.com.