One-on-One with Matt Trathen

“You mean the nice guy with the hair?”

Even the people who have yet to be officially introduced to Matt Trathen (affectionately called Matt T by friends and strangers alike) know him in passing. As a staple of the Sacramento bar scene for almost twenty years, locals seeking libations have probably had their fair share of concoctions double-strained by his hands.

He is a bartender’s bartender who molded his path almost out of thin air when he started in Citrus Heights and Roseville. “At twenty, I was thrown behind the bar,” he will say with pride. At a time before Siri and apps, he was armed only with a large black book filled with recipes when patrons would request a cocktail he had never heard of before. “‘Find it in the book while I help that guy over there.’ That’s how I learned.”

Like many of the current big players in the local bar scene, Matt T found his Midtown home with the Paragary’s family of restaurants and bars at the turn of the century. Since then, he’s tended bar and managed at spots all over the grid and beyond, including San Francisco. Currently, he can be found slinging drinks at LowBrau, Block Butcher Bar, and de Vere’s Irish Pub, where he also leads development of their craft cocktail menu.03_11_16 Matt T - 04His time spent in the trenches gives Matt T a keen eye on where Sacramento’s bar culture has been and, more importantly, where it’s going. “I travel all over the country to learn more about the craft, and three years ago, telling people I was from Sacramento didn’t mean much. Now I can go to Portland or Austin for a conference and people are excited because they’ve heard about our cocktail week.”

He thinks the Farm-to-Fork movement is a big player in the viability and success of local watering holes. Matt T remembers, “For years, Sacramento seemed stuck between a city and a town. When the recession hit, I was worried about what might happen.” Fortunately, Sacramento’s growth has continued on, but it shows no sign of letting go of its roots. “I can make a drink with lemon oil grown on a farm that’s twenty miles away. You can’t get that kind of connection, or that kind of selling point, in a lot of places.”

Matt T also noted that a lot of the city’s success in the industry comes from a sense of accessibility. There is a lack of pretentiousness behind Sacramento bars, and perhaps it’s the diversity of the city that lends itself to this wide acceptance and eagerness to share knowledge, experiences, and recipes.

Matt T’s time in San Francisco helped bring some of the city flair – and its recipes – to Sacramento. In keeping with the spirit of the city, Matt T has some insights for building cocktails that will impress at home. “Take a classic cocktail and substitute an ingredient, like a mezcal margarita—make a traditional margarita and substitute the tequila for mezcal. It’ll have a rich smoked quality.” But Matt T also wanted to share a recipe from Tommy’s, the world-famous tequila bar in San Francisco.

Tommy’s Mezcal Margarita

  • 2 oz mezcal
  • 1 oz fresh lime juice
  • ½ oz agave
  • Lime wedge
  • Salt
  • Ice
  • Cocktail shaker
  • Glassware

Step 1: Place a generous amount of salt on a plate or in a shallow bowl. Run the lime wedge across the rim of your glassware and then press the rim into the salt.

Step 2: Add the mezcal, lime juice, agave, and some ice to a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously.

Step 3: Pour carefully into the glass to maintain the salt rim. Serve over ice and garnish with the lime wedge.03_11_16 Matt T - 06

Photos | Irene Chung