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Bartender of the month: Damon Bird of LARK on the Park

Damon Bird heads the barrel aging program at LARK on the Park
Damon Bird heads the barrel aging program at LARK on the Park
Robert Stahl

A typical bartender spends his down time in the bar updating his Facebook status, but more dedicated barmen like Damon Bird use that time obsessing over ways to elevate the craft of bartending to the next level. Bird’s interests led him to a recent trend in craft cocktails called barrel aging. “In short, barrel aging means taking a spirit-forward cocktail, something like a Manhattan or a negroni, and preparing it in a batch and then letting it sit in a charred oak barrels,” Bird explains. The mixture rests for about four to six weeks, after which it’s served either up or on the rocks.

But the team at LARK prides itself on originality, so simply copying the classic cocktails wasn’t enough. The bar staff was challenged with coming up with their own creative barrel-aged cocktails. Bird demonstrates by lugging out a 10-liter barrel and carefully opening the tap. “We call this the Camara Lente,” Bird explains, “which is a mezcal-based drink with dry curacao, Aperol and Frenet. He dispenses the ruby-colored elixir into a glass and offers it. “What happens is any rough edges of flavor get smoothed out and you’re left with a cocktail that is richer and smoother with a more velvety mouthfeel.” The drink is satiny, warm, and sweet, a delightful mix of flavors like smoke, orange, and oak and I’m already thinking about how to con him into offering me another glass. With such creative cocktails on hand, it’s no wonder LARK’s management recently promoted Bird to head the craft beer program as well. Rest assured, cocktail fans, this joint’s in good hands.

What’s your favorite spirit to work with?
I like to work with gin at LARK, because it’s something I can surprise people with. It seems to be the one spirit that I am told the most not to use. Sometimes when someone asks me not to use gin, I’ll use gin just to surprise him. I’m usually pretty successful; I’ve only had one drink come back so far.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a marine biologist. Still do. It’s the pull of the ocean; it’s such a great big mystery and such an unexplored frontier. And it’s beautiful. It’s an alien part of the planet where all these life forms have evolved. And who knows? They could be on a level of intelligence level equal to ours or greater, so the idea of delving into that has always been attractive to me.

What’s your worst bar habit?
Heavy sarcasm. Something I’m constantly fighting all the time. I think I’m really funny but not everybody agrees with me on that.

What’s your signature cocktail?
Blackberry Smash. Rye whiskey, allspice dram, lemon, sugar, mint, muddled blackberries and my own house made blackberry bitters.

Who should play you in a movie of your life?
Funny you should ask, because someone gave me the perfect answer to this question a few months ago, completely unasked. I was at this charity event all decked out and this hippie stoner kind of guy came up to me and told me he wanted to watch a movie of my life with Jude Law starring as me. I have no idea why he said this.

For more info: LARK on the Park is located in Klyde Warren Park in downtown; 2015 Woodall Rogers Freeway, Dallas, Texas, 75201; (214) 855-5275.

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