Kacee didn’t always want to be a bartender. In the 8th grade, she had aspirations to become a lawyer but the realities of time and money required her to put the plan on the back burner. Are we ever lucky that law school is an expensive endeavour because the Bar Casa Vale manager found her passion in the hospitality industry. This fortuitous change in career path means we all get to benefit from her immense talent behind the bar.
What started as a one-off bartending gig at a music festival snowballed into a drive to learn how to bartend with the best of them. From The Box Social to Shift Drinks to Clyde Common, KaCee has worked at some of Portland’s favourite bars and has now landed at BCV. Recently named 2017 Bar of the Year by Willamette Weekly, the team at BCV is hitting all the right notes. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with KaCee to talk former gigs, future aspirations, and growing opportunities for women behind the bar.
What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
A lawyer. From the 8th grade until my senior year when I found out about alcohol and drugs. And then I realized I didn’t want to spend 10,000 years at school and I didn’t want to spend all that money on it either.
Do you recall your first sip of alcohol?
Absolutely. I was at my Grandma Josie’s house. She only drinks Miller Light or tequila. She had just opened one and put it in a koozie and I was like “Grandma! I want to drink beer.” And she said “Alright mija! You want to drink a beer- have some.” And I took a sip of a Miller Light and told her it tasted like pee and she was like “Good! Never drink in your life.” And now I bartend!
What was your first bartending gig?
It was a Music Fest Northwest event. I was asked to come and do a private event and I had no concept of ounces and ratios at all. And so I was just in there pouring beer. I knew how to do that. I knew I liked vodka and that was pretty much it. So I was just pouring people like four ounces of vodka and putting Squirt on top of it. That was the first time I was ever behind the bar. It was fun!
Was there a specific moment, conversation or experience that made you decide to make a career of bartending?
I think that was it. When I walked away from that event and I had enough money to pay my month’s rent and some left over from working for six hours, I realized that my current job at the time needed to be seriously reevaluated. A lot of people told me I should start bartending, start serving in nicer, bigger restaurants. Don’t work a counter at a sandwich shop. And so that’s when I decided this would be my next move in terms of what I’m doing in the service industry.
So where did you go from there?
So after I left the original Bunk (I was there for four years). I started serving at The Box Social in North Portland and I was very green. I had no real concept of what a cocktail should be. I didn’t drink them. I drank vodka sodas and Miller High Life. When I started with them they just took me under their wing and their cocktail program is fucking amazing. The bartenders over there let me pick their brains, read different books and eventually I realized I didn’t want to serve anymore. I’d rather be behind the bar
One bartender in particular- David (he’s now their bar manager)- would let me shake and he would teach me how to pour. They do free pouring there so he was teaching me how to count and how to shake and the correct way to stir. And I thought it was awesome and I felt I should do this because I felt I could be really good at it. But I knew I couldn’t do it there because their bartenders stay there for a long time. They work very hard. They make great money and they put out amazing product and those people don’t want to leave.
So eventually Alise Moffat asked me to come open up shift drinks with her. I was a barback and helped servers. While there, I was only working three days and Clyde Common needed some help so I started working there hosting and serving. Eventually they offered me full time and I couldn’t say no. And now I’m a manager here at Bar Casa Vale and I bartend.
If you could only have a five bottle bar, what would your five bottles be?
I would say Martin Miller’s Gin for sure. I love DL Franklin Vodka from Dogwood Distilling. They’re local and they do a stellar job. Carpano Antica. Pechuga Mezcal all day long. I will drink mezcal all day, everyday. And if I’m drinking a rye whisky I’d say Old Overholt.
What would be your death row drink?
A Lone Star beer, cold, in the bottle and a shot of Pechuga.
One cocktail book that should be behind every bar?
I love Death and Co. I think that book is beautiful. I love the explanations. I love how to-the-point it is and how much information it gives you. I think they did a really beautiful job with that cocktail book.
One non-cocktail book that should be behind every bar?
Anything with photos of puppies. All day long. Please God give me a puppy book. I want to look at adorable doberman pinschers froclicking in tall grass. That’s what I want to look at behind the bar.
If you could make a drink for anyone dead or alive, who would it be and what would you make them?
Honestly I would have to say….there would be two. Alive- it would be Louis CK and I would most likely make him an Old Fashioned. He’s a pretty dark guy and I think an Old Fashioned would suit him pretty well. Or maybe a Black Manhattan. Dead I would have to say Selena. I would probably make her the most delicious egg white margarita ever.
If your best shift behind the bar had a theme song, what would be playing in the background?
I would say Beyonce’s Formation. I love Beyonce. Also a Texan!
Your favourite fictional bar from TV, movie or book?
Probably it’s always sunny in Philadelphia. I would go into Paddy’s Pub.
What is your favourite word?
What is your least favourite word?
What turns you on?
What turns you off?
Dominating a conversation.
What sound or noise do you love?
When I go camping- being in the tent as the sun rises and the birds starts chirping and the water starts flowing faster and harder, waking up to gentle sun. That’s my favourite overall sound and fill.
What sound or noise do you hate?
My doberman pinscher barking at four in the morning for food. Dude. Please stop.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I would like to, at some point, open a rescue shelter for dogs. I just have to find the land and have a big enough house and build the contacts with people. But I would love to take in rescue dogs. I follow Underdog Railroad Rescue. They’re here in Portland. My sister actually adopted a dog from there and they’re just awesome. They do really great work. It’s probably something where I need to contact them and figure out how they got started but that would be my next profession- taking in shelter dogs, getting them ready to be fostered and go to forever homes. Just taking care of them and letting them live a good life. Why not?
What profession would you never like to do?
Anything where I’m cleaning up vomit, piss, shit. Seeing vomit makes me want to vomit so there’s no way I could ever do that. So maybe custodial work? Or a trashman.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I’d say singing. I cannot sing for the life of me and I wish so desperately that I could just get on a mic and blow people away.
Your favourite fictional hero?
Probably James from James and the Giant Peach. There’s just something about somebody losing their everything and creating this friendship with weird things and having terrible influences on you but beauty just coming out of it. Even as a kid reading that book is so wild. Re-reading it as an adult is very strange! But it’s so good.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I would probably say Selena. A Mexican, American. The first Mexican American to win a Grammy. She made all of her own clothes. She did not speak Spanish but sang it fluently. Her sister wrote all of her music. She eloped with the guitarist from her band and was murdered at the age of 23 by the president of her fanclub and a friend. As a Mexican American from Texas and a woman seeing someone be able to accomplish that in 23 years- it just makes me sad thinking about what could have been for us. That was our person. You only get so many people to represent you- especially being a minority and that was a bad bitch to represent. She was so cool- her dancing, her singing. I will listen to her anytime. I don’t care. She’s clutch.
What is your most treasured possession?
My house. My boyfriend and I bought it back in July. That was a big step. All my favourite, loved things live there- my boyfriend, our two dogs. Everything that I cherish lives in that house and it’s so nice to come home and know that I’m putting my money towards a mortgage and not towards rent and that I have an investment. If anything happens, we have our home, not a landlord. We can do whatever the fuck we want. This is ours! We can add on or take away and it’s a great feeling to come home to your home.
If you could come back as anything, what would you come back as?
Probably a redwood tree. I’d go live in the forest. I’d let animals come and live on me, enjoy my branches. I think that would be the best thing- grow huge and live for so long and hopefully never get burnt down by a forest fire.
If you could only be known for one drink that you’ve ever made, what would it be?
I’d say my drink that’s currently on the BCV menu. I’m really proud of that drink. Daniel has done such an amazing job with this bar and the drinks that we’re putting out here are fucking fantastic. But the ¡Que Rico! that I have on the menu right now is my take on a piña colada with pineapple rum and reposado. Less sweet, let’s put some mint in there, let’s use agave, let’s use coconut milk instead and let’s put it on pebble ice because why not? And let’s serve it in the really beautiful collins glass with a big bouquet of mint! It’s been on our menu for a week or two now and every time I see somebody drinking it I’m like…..( insert faintly audible swooning sound here). It’s getting ordered more and more. It’s wonderful because when men get it they’re not like “This is a girly drink.” And when women get it they’re like “This is delicious,” and they drink two or three or them. I’m so proud of BCV and the product we’re putting out to our patrons so this cocktail is really important to me.
1oz Coconut Milk
3/4oz fresh lime juice
3/4oz reposado tequila
1oz Plantation Pineapple Rum
5-8 mint leaves
Shake all ingredients over ice. Strain into a collins glass over pebble ice and garnish with a mint bouquet.
Is there anything you want to add about working in Portland, bartending in general, working at BCV specifically or are there any questions you wish I would have asked that I didn’t?
If I’ve learned anything about bartending in Portland, it’s that we need more female bartenders. We need different races behind the bar and we need to highlight that. That is why when BCV opened we had three female bartenders and two on at anytime. Just having those female bartenders and really pushing them up instead of making this such a male dominated world- especially in the kitchen- I’m sick of that shit! I’m done with that! When we hired, we hired all women with the exception of Daniel. And Daniel loves hiring women because he too is a feminist and wants the ladies to rise to the occasion. And I’m into that environment. The environment that we’re cultivating at BCV is not that stuffy ‘I’m a bartender and I know all of this…’ I’m not into that kind of attitude. We’re just chill here and I’ll make you a wonderful drink and I’m not going to be pretentious about it. I don’t know everything there is to know about sherry or our wines or our liquor but I’ll learn with you. That way we both learn something new. I think that’s the great part about Portland. We’re pushing each other to learn and we’re getting our women into better positions.