Behind the Bar: PJ Baron of Hotel Valley Ho

Photo: Hotel Valley Ho

Name: PJ Baron

Title: Beverage Ambassador for Hotel Valley Ho

Instagram: @PJVaderBaron

Find me mixing drinks at… ZuZu inside the historical Hotel Valley Ho.

My favorite drink to make is… ZuZu’s “From the Ashes;” it’s my love letter to my adopted home of Arizona, and I’m originally from Michigan. It’s made with Whiskey Del Bac from Tucson, essentially a single malt scotch. Whiskey Del Bac is one of only maybe, a dozen distilleries in the whole world who malt their own barley, and they finish that process by drying the malt over burning Mesquite wood from the Sonoran desert. We complement that smoky flavor with a housemade limoncello rested in charred oak barrels that includes flavors of lemon, yuzu, kumquat, ginger, and Thai basil grown in chef’s herb garden. A unique take on citrus being one of Arizona’s “5 C’s”. Next, we add a prickly pear liqueur made from fruit harvested in Arizona but produced in Michigan. The drink is finished with just a hint of pineapple juice, and I always say, “because everything’s better with P.J..”

I’d most like to mix a drink for… any chef or cook just getting off of work. They work so hard, often for little reward or praise. They are the backbone of our entire industry and they deserve to sit down and be served. Their palates are so refined, that when a Chef tells me, “this drink is great,”  it makes my year! Our hotel sees a lot of celebrities, and I’m so proud to serve them. But, when a Line Cook 2 comes in, in his or her whites and goes, “do you have Mezcal Carreño? Can you make me something great with that?” I’m so excited! Nobody’s job is cooler than mine in that moment.

If I could have one superpower while working, it’d be… It would be amazing to craft a cocktail that I know a guest would enjoy based on their past experiences and preferences without even having to ask them.

If I were a flavor, I’d be… Kiltlifter from Four Peaks Brewing. It’s approachable for everyone, but more interesting the more you consider it. Balanced, with no bitterness. Great company for any meal.

My biggest bartending fail… I kept getting tickets for a dining room table for “vodka and prosecco, rocks, tall.” Not my favorite libation, but we all have different tastes! Now the server who was ringing in this drink was quite busy and asked if I could help him out and personally deliver the drink. I was also curious as to who would be ordering this crazy drink! Coincidentally, we had just moved our furniture around, so the table numbers had changed. I hustle over to what I think is the right table, and it’s the owner of the hotel sitting there. I start to deliver the drink, and it’s instantly clear that no one at the table had ordered a drink, and they thought I was there with a surprise treat. So my options were to drop a vodka and prosecco at the table and pretend it’s a new cocktail the bar team is working on that we want the owner to try and give feedback, or admit that I didn’t know my table numbers. Yikes!

My top drink and food recommendation to guests is… ZuZu’s Crispy Poached Egg paired with the Fizzy Lifting Drink. It’s breakfast for dinner! Plus, bubbles and fried food is a consummate winner.

When I’m not working, I enjoy sipping on… whiskey, neat. Out and about? Jefferson Ocean Bourbon if they have it. At home? High West Midwinter Night’s Dram Rye Whiskey.

My favorite place in town for drinks is… Brickyard in Chandler for cocktails, Four Peaks Brewery in Tempe for craft beer, and Maple & Ash in Scottsdale for wine.

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