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Interview – Seth Laufman Bar Manager of URBN Coal Fired Pizza and Bar San Diego

Submitted by Tim Brice on April 18, 2011 – 7:25 pm2 Comments

Ohio native Seth Laufman has been tending bar for the better part of the last ten years.  Most of that time has been spent pouring cocktails at some of San Francisco’s classier establishments such as Gitane and Boulevard.  Seth has recently taken his talents south to San Diego as Bar Manager and Head Bartender at URBN Coal Fire Pizza and Bar.  MixPourSip spoke to Seth about URBN, their cocktail program and what drives him as a master mixologist.  Be sure to also check out Seth’s recipe for URBN’s Chicago Club Cocktail.

Seth e1303176597533 726x1024 Interview   Seth Laufman Bar Manager of URBN Coal Fired Pizza and Bar San Diego

Seth from URBN Cool Fired Pizza & Bar



MixPourSip: How did you find yourself at URBN?


Seth Laufman: I was working with Nick Budrow at Gitane in San Francisco.  He was being brought down here [to URBN] to basically kick off the beverage program.  On his way out the door I said, “Dude, if you need a hand when you get to So Cal let me know.” He called not long after saying he could use help with the spirits program and the training of staff.  He’s more of a front of house service guy who knows his wine and spirits very, very well.  He wanted me to bring a more practical behind the bar experience.


MPS: North Park in San Diego is becoming more and more of a San Diego night time destination.


SL: They are working on it.  There is a lot of good beer bars in the area; Hamilton’s, Toronado, Samll Bar, etc.


MPS: So what’s URBN all about?  Is it a restaurant with a great bar or great bar that serves food?


SL: I think what we try is to just do everything well.  We are not just focused on just the food necessarily or focused just on the booze either.  We just offer people a quality product all across the board: incredible pizza, great beer selection and, hopefully, great cocktails too.


MPS: What is the general focus behind the bar?  I read somewhere that you won’t find drinks that take fifteen minutes to make on your menu.


SL: Because of the size of the space and how busy we are, taking the time to make drinks like that takes away from taking care of everyone’s needs.  What we try to do is focus on fresh ingredients and classic cocktail knowledge and then spin off to do original cocktails that are balanced, delicious and fairly simple to make.


MPS: There are a few trends going on right now with cocktails that are barrel aged or fat infused, among others.  Is URBN playing around with anything like that these days?


SL: We have a few guys who are playing with home made bitters right now.  Personally, I’m working on testing some new infusions with whiskey, primarily, along with some syrups and tinctures.  We’re mostly playing with stuff that is not necessarily easy to prepare but are difficult to impossible to find elsewhere that will add different flavors and profiles giving us the chance enchance the spirit of choice and/or highlight other natural flavors.


MPS:  Did I hear correctly that you are working on the cocktail menu becoming seasonally focused?


SL:  It will be seasonal.  We’ve only been open for a few months and we are working on using the best fresh ingredients.  Especially here in San Diego, we have access to a wide assortement of produce to play with much of the year.  Of course we’ll be doing warmer weather cocktails in the Summer time and more heavier weighted items in the Winter.  We have ten classic cocktails on the menu as well as ten house cocktails. People have the option to try something a little outside the box if they want to or go with some classics that they may or may not recognize but have been around since the turn of the last century.


MPS: On the personal level, when you go out on a night that you are not working what are you usually drinking?


SL: It varies.  I usually go for a whiskey or tequila based drink but I’ll do a gin cocktail from time to time.  But it’s dominated by whiskey.


seth laufman at El Dorado competition Interview   Seth Laufman Bar Manager of URBN Coal Fired Pizza and Bar San Diego

Seth at the first annual El Dorado Bartender Competition by 944.com

MPS: Are you a cocktail geek when you go to someone else’s place?  Do you do the “I’ll order off your house list, show me what you got” kind of thing?


SL: Absolutely.  I  know a few of the bartenders that embrace the geekery down here as well as back in San Francisco.  I like a bartender  who knows what they are doing.  If I can’t make up my mind I’ll definitely ask what they’ve been playing with recently or what they’re feeling good about.  There has been very few times that I’ve been disappointed.  When I’m not working, I definitely try to leave it up to someone else.


MPS: I heared other bartenders say that they can go into a bar and see how the bartender there is working and how they’re set up to know whether or not he should just order a beer. Do you have a visual look around the bar to decide how safe it is to order off their menu?


SL: I’ll take my cues from what they have on the list and from the techniques and styles that the individual bartenders are using to craft their drinks or how they are building them sometimes.  I know when I walk into certain places that I am there because they make things well and I don’t have to worry about it.  If I’m going some place that I’m not sure or not familiar with I will usually go with something easy like a shot and a beer or just something to sip on like a whiskey neat.  You do have to be aware of your surroundings.  There is no sense in ordering a drink and being disappointed with it when you could’ve been more observant.


MPS: If you’re doing whiskey neat on reasonable budget, what is your choice?


SL: (Without pausing) That’s easy, I’m going Black Maple Hill.  If you can find it.  I am a fan of their bourbon for sure.


MPS: What is your favorite mixology bar that you haven’t worked at?


SL: That I would frequent?


MPS: Exactly.


SL: In San Francisco, my choice was definitely 15 Romolo or Comstock.  I really enjoyed those places.  Good bartenders, great vibe, great experience.  Always had fun there and the atmosphere was always right.  In San Diego, definitely Craft & Commerce, Prohibition and Noble Experiment are the places I go when I want to hang out and have a great cocktail.


MPS: Are you a fan of dive bars as well and what are the hallmarks of a great dive bar?


SL: I love a good dive bar.  They should be unpretentiousness and have dark lighting.  The bartenders in the dive bars I like are usually not there to kiss ass or make decisions for anyone.  They exist to give you what you want and then get out of your hair.


Manhattan 300x200 Interview   Seth Laufman Bar Manager of URBN Coal Fired Pizza and Bar San Diego

A classic Manhattan from URBN San Diego

MPS: Who has been the most memorable bartender you ever met?


SL: A couple of guys who really helped me out and opened my eyes to what was going on with cocktails and the culture that is immersed in it would be Steven Liles and Carlos Splenderini as well.


MPS: I have had bartenders tell me that they don’t mind someone with a complicated drink order as long as they are clear about what they want as opposed to someone who doesn’t know what they want and just asks for “something yummy.”  There are a lot of mixology nerds out there who think they know more than you as well.  What annoys you as a bartender?


SL: What I like about being behind the bar, for the most part, is making something they’ve never had but end up loving.  When I do get that guest that sits down and says “make me something yummy” I’ll ask what they want me to base it on: gin, vodka, whiskey, tequila, rum, etc.  I’ll try to make them something new to them, maybe with an ingreident or two they’ve never heard and get them curious and turned on and that knocks their socks off.


MPS: We all know that many of us judge each other by what we are drinking.  You are a bartender who takes the time to create new and interesting things.  How do you get someone to order a something new when so many bar patrons are either stuck in cliches of what is socially safe or who like being defined by what they drink?


SL: Everybody has their tasting preferences.  If somebody sits down and orders  a little coy, or just orders something served neat,  I’ll sometimes offer them something that maybe they haven’t had before especially if I’ve been playing around with something specific that day.  I’ll offer it to them asking if they are open to let me experiment on them a little.  I always let them know that if they don’t like I still have that whiskey neat or whatever it was they first ordered to fall back on.  It’s not necessary like hand holding, but it’s okay to try out something new.  You just have to remember  they are never wrong.  If it’s too far outside their comfort zone, that’s cool.  Everyone has the flavor profiles that they are comfortable with that go along with their ideas of whats cool and comfortable for them.  Half the time, you can tell somebody who loves vodka that there is a clear spirit in their cocktail and sometimes they won’t know that it’s gin and they will be happy with the flavor because of the overall flavor or the cocktail, that there are other components in the drink that take away what they think they don’t like about gin or whatever.


MPS:  In your opinion, what is the sexiest drink a woman can order?


SL: The sexiest drink, for me, that a woman can order is a whiskey neat.


MPS: What is your favorite classic cocktail to order.


SL: These days, I’d have to say a Vieux Carre.  It’s got some body and some character to it.  You get past two of those and you are heading down a comfortable road.


MPS: What’s your favorite cure for a hangover.


SL: Lately, I’ve discovered the best cure for a hangover is getting a tattoo.  It puts your mind somewhere else for a while.  It’s great as long as you can afford it and remember to do it the day after drinking too much and not the night before.


MPS: You’ve been bartending for about ten years now.  How long do you plan to keep this up?


SL: As long as I can.  I am definitely enjoying myself.  I’ll be dabbling in my own establishment one of these days.  Until then, it’s grinding it out and learning as much as I can.  I like the work.  It’s always changing and there is always something new; new ingredients, new techniques.  As good as the classics are we definitely have some cool stuff to play with that didn’t exist in the old days.


MPS:  Is there a bar or bartender out there that you’ve never been to but would like to try?


SL: Unfortunately for me I have yet to make it to NYC. There are a handful of bars there that I am excited to try.  The classics like Employees Only and Milk and Honey, Death and Co. are definitely a couple I would like to check out.





article clipper Interview   Seth Laufman Bar Manager of URBN Coal Fired Pizza and Bar San Diego

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