A Portland mixologist’s home bar is filled with favorite spirits and memories, but short on tequila.
Liz Smith, bar manager at Lio in Portland, loves tequila (she favors Tequila Ocho), but you’d be hard-pressed to deduce that from her home bar. There’s barely any tequila in it—“I keep drinking it,” she says, laughing.
Smith found the wooden bar on Craig’s List when living in Rhode Island. Her favorite housewarming present, a “Margaritas: They’re Not Just for Breakfast Anymore” sign, hangs above it in the Old Port apartment she shares with two roommates and her cat Yoda.
The bar may be low on tequila, but it’s full of other goodies: Wild Turkey Rare Breed (116 proof) from a trip she won to Kentucky, where she acquired a newfound respect for the brand; Vespertino, a tequila crema that tastes like cookies and cream; El Tinieblo mezcal, a gift from a friend, which she can’t bring herself to finish; two tiny bottles of St. George’s gin she bought when she took her first mixology classes at age 21; Clyde May’s apple whiskey; Hardshore gin, her favorite local spirit; and Chambord, a gift from her stepfather, which she mixes with lemonade to make one of her favorite summer patio pounders.
Smith’s most common mixed drink at home is a rum Old-Fashioned. In lieu of making a traditional simple syrup, she mixes 4 dashes of Angostura bitters, a teaspoon of sugar and a little bit of water and then lets that sit for a bit before mixing with ice and 2 ounces of Plantation rum. “Sugar, booze and bitters—it’s the original cocktail.”
A dedicated bartender, Smith has a separate minibar in her bedroom where she keeps any truly special items. It, too, is out of tequila.
Smith loves an Aperol Spritz. The mason jar is not a trade secret; she needed to use the Aperol bottle to practice free pouring (counting instead of measuring) for a bartending competition.
Out of the reach of roommates and guests is Smith’s prize bottle, a bottle of Russell’s Reserve Kentucky straight rye whiskey signed by Jimmy Russell himself, a master distiller known as the Buddha of Bourbon who has been at it for over 60 years.
Smith named the cup she used for a tiki shake-off “Bimbo Kitty,” painting it pink and adding glitter to up her game. Her second-place concoction consisted of Plantation 3 Stars rum, Bimini gin, hop tea from fresh hops, Pedro Ximenez sherry, lime juice, a grapefruit and thyme syrup. She was bested by bar manager Pat McDonald of Chaval in Portland, but no hard feelings—“If you’re gonna lose to someone, lose to him.”
Smith is a big fan of pineapples and “anything shiny,” and admits that she cannot bring herself to drink out of her beloved pineapple tiki mug, a gift from one of her best friends, because “I don’t wanna mess it up.”
Each bottle evokes a memory. One is a 2010 port from when she worked at Sakonnet Vineyards in Rhode Island; one is a 2015 Cabernet Franc, which was among the last bottles a Rhode Island vintner made; and one is a 2013 Givry Premier Cru, one of three bottles she attempted to bring back from a tasting in New Orleans—the other two bottles were destroyed in transit.
The Turkey Dew, “a deconstructed whiskey sour,” serves as a secret handshake for alumni of Camp Runamok, a week-long bartender event in Kentucky. Mixologist and Turkey Dew creator Josh Seaburg brought it to Camp Runamok; Smith now stashes a bottle of Mountain Dew at work in case any other alumni show up and demand one.
Angie Bryan moved to Portland in 2018 when she retired from the diplomatic service. Her writing has also appeared in The Foreign Service Journal and she contributes regularly to MaineToday.com. After interviewing Liz Smith, her own home bar now includes Vespertino.