In 2022, owners Gianna Johns and Daniel Flores opened Baby Gee, a craft cocktail bar that still feels like a neighborhood spot. I chatted with Gianna Johns about Long Beach, opening a bar in the city and what trends have been popular recently.
Caitlin Antonios: Can you share a little bit about how long you’ve been bartending?
Gianna Johns: I have been bartending for 10 years now and I have been working in restaurants and hospitality since I was 13 years old. So, pretty much my whole working life.
Q: How did you learn to bartend? Is it really just learning on the job?
A: I was lucky enough to work for a company Julian Cox consulted for. And Julian Cox is this really nationally known cocktail master. At the time I was not interested in bartending, but I just wanted to learn more because I was a server at the time and I thought that would be a good way to learn more about what I was serving. And I was like, “Oh yeah, I want to bartend.” And so that was kind of the catalyst.
Q: What’s it like to own a bar in Long Beach?
A: Owning a bar in Long Beach is really incredible because the community that we’re in is just so diverse and interesting and eclectic. And also of course offer what we’re good at, which is cocktails and hospitality at sort of a higher level—I don’t mean a higher level in terms of it being better or worse than anything else, but just sort of on a more technical level and a more craft level.
For us, it was really important that we didn’t alienate anybody or that we didn’t make anyone feel like this was a pretentious place. So, we wanted to start off just being really open to feedback and seeing what the community was kind of interested in. And we were really happy to find out that our style aligned with what a lot of people were interested in around here.
Q: Tell me a little bit about what’s the most popular thing that people have been ordering since you guys opened.
A: I think I’m pretty surprised to see that almost everyone, I would say like 80% of people, are ordering from the cocktail menu. People will usually kind of jump around from beer, wine, shots, and then the specialty cocktails. But I’ve been really excited to see that a lot of people are ordering from the menu, which is pretty exciting for us.
Q: Do you feel that there’s been a shift toward specialty and craft cocktails, maybe post pandemic, or just in the last few years?
A: Yeah, I think there’s definitely an interest in that. There’s a Netflix show about bartending. So, I think that that piqued maybe some people’s interest. But there’s also a really new wide interest in natural wine, which is something that we do. There’s definitely trends and I do think that the cocktail is having a moment and I think that natural wine is definitely having a moment.
Q: What do you think people don’t order enough? Like something that you think maybe a wider audience would like, but just don’t tend to lean toward.
A: I think that brand loyalty is something that you see a lot where people are really familiar with a certain brand, and maybe they’ve been drinking it for a long time, or maybe their dad drank it, so that’s why they drink it. And I really love that kind of nostalgia that goes hand in hand with drinking, culture, but what’s really fascinating about the time that we’re in is that there are thousands [of brands] and so many different micro brands and really, really small producers and distillers doing special, different stuff. And I would say that it’s sometimes harder to convince people to try something new in terms of brands.
Q: What’s the most polite way to get a bartender’s attention when the bar is crowded?
A: I would say the most polite thing to do is first, just walk up to the bar, kind of try to make eye contact and wait. And then of course, if you’re not being acknowledged and you have to kind of take the next step, then that would be like, “I’d like to order a drink when you’re ready.”
Q: I know we talked a little bit about the fact that people have been ordering cocktails and cocktails and natural wine are having a moment, but what drinks are super trendy right now? Is it a return to classics or is there something new that’s coming up?
A: I think that the espresso martini is still really up there with the most called-for drink that isn’t on a menu. So much so that I know that there’s a lot of bars that do them on draft now, which is really fun.
Q: What’s your suggestion for somebody who really doesn’t know what they want?
A: I think there’s two different ideas for somebody that doesn’t know what they want. There’s a series of questions that we like to ask to help kind of get them to that point. Things like, are you in the mood for something refreshing or are you in the mood for something more spirit forward like an old fashioned or something like that. And then the other side of it would be if you just want the bartender to create something for you, cause you’re super open and excited about that, then I would say that’s really special. And I think most bartenders get excited about that.
Gianna Johns will be at Kitchen Lingo on 2116 East Fourth Street on Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. to teach the history of the martini and how to make one. Tickets to the event are $65 and include the Shake, Strain, Done: Craft Cocktails at Home book and one martini. Seating is limited. For more information, check here.