Food & Wine

The Ladies Behind the Bar

By OCinSite At-Large | July 14, 2011 2:02 PM

The Ladies Behind the Bar

Overheard: “Two guys walk into a bar, the third one ducks.” | Photo by Steve Zepezauer

By Sarah Pierce | Photos by Jody Tiongco | Laguna Beach Magazine, August 2011

It’s been four years since we profiled the “Bartending Legends of Laguna” in our Fall/Winter 2007 issue. Out of the seven bartenders we interviewed only two of them were women, so we wondered: Where are all the lady mixologists?

Historically, bartenders have been male. Female bartenders weren’t even allowed behind the bar in most parts of the country due to both social stigma and strict local law. Proprietors who did employ women were prosecuted fully. That didn’t fully keep the drink-slinging dames away from the bar, though. In 1895, for example, a U.S. Census report showed that 147 women worked as bartenders—compared to 55,660 men. Even as recently as 1971, California officially barred women from “pouring whisky.”

Today you can find a woman pouring whiskey, among other spirits, from behind just about every bar in America. Here, we salute the women of bartending and honor some of the best female bartenders serving your favorite Laguna libations.

The Historian
ERIN MIYAWAKI, The Saloon, 446 S. Coast Hwy.

Laguna locals have been bellying up at The Saloon for nearly three decades, and for the past six-plus years, Erin Miyakawki has been there to greet them.

A true Laguna local (the only one on our list), Erin, 32, has seen it all—and she wants to tell you about it.

Erin in Laguna Beach

“There’s a lot of history at this bar,” she says. “People like having a local bartender here because we can talk about the good old days. It’s a place where friends meet. It’s the ‘Cheers’ of Laguna.”

It doesn’t take long after ordering a drink from Erin before the stories of The Saloon’s past start floating across the antique bar top. “It’s an old artists’ and writers’ bar, so there have been a lot of interesting characters and great conversations here,” she says. “People would come in just to hear what they would say.”

The Saloon has been the local watering hole for many famous artists, but perhaps the most memorable, Erin says, were twin brothers Frank and Phil Interlandi. Frank worked as the editorial cartoonist for the Los Angeles Times and Phil was one of the first cartoonists for Playboy.

“Frank used to come in every day and have his red wine at that table there. I was lucky enough to catch him at the end of his life,” Erin says. Before he passed away in 2010, Frank donated a self-portrait to his favorite local hangout. It hangs on the brick wall next to another framed cartoon drawn by his brother.

The Saloon patrons aren’t the only famous things to come out of the bar; even the drinks have become legend.

“We have a famous shot called ‘Popos’ that only the locals know about and you can only get here.” It’s comprised of coffee liqueur and topped with hot coffee, but that’s all she’ll tell us. Don’t expect to get the real ingredients out of Erin or any other bartender at The Saloon—it’s a secret recipe.

The story behind the shot, Erin explains, is that it was created nearly 20 years ago by a very well known Filipino bartender at The Saloon named Popos, who had dozens of published recipes.

“He was a mixologist before mixology was even popular,” she says.

Popos wanted to create a warm drink he could give to the locals who popped in after leaving the Sandpiper so they could warm themselves up for the rest of the walk downtown. Popos would make his secret concoction at home and bring it into work in a milk carton, never telling a soul the secret to his recipe.

“Unfortunately, he passed away in the canyon in a car accident and took the recipe with him,” Erin says. “So the remaining bartenders took the last bottle and deciphered it as best they could. In tradition, one of the owners here, who used to be a bartender at that time, makes it at home and brings it in a label-less bottle. We don’t tell anyone what’s in it, just like we did 20 years ago.”

Erin at the Saloon, Laguna Beach Erin's Cranikazi, Laguna Beach
Erin’s Favorite Drink
2 ounces pineapple-infused vodka
½ ounce Triple Sec
Cranberry juice
*Serve on the rocks or up.

“We create our own pineapple-infused vodka by placing sliced pineapple in a jug of vodka that sits behind the bar. We let it soak for at least two weeks.”

The Bohemian
DANIELLE CAVALLUCCI, Lumberyard, 384 Forest Ave.

Danielle Cavalluci’s path as a bartender began in the throbbing nightclubs of New York City, but it was her journey to the tranquil town of Laguna where she finally came alive.

Danielle in Laguna Beach

“I came to Laguna three-and-a-half years ago, doing something totally aside. The production company I was running closed down and the job market tanked, so I decided to go back into bartending,” says the petite blonde bartender.

Danielle, 34, came to the Lumberyard when it opened in 2008 and immediately felt at home. The restaurant’s eclectic food and wine menu, and her ability to handcraft cocktails made from fresh fruits and herbs, tickled her passion for organic living.

“My philosophy is to be as close to nature as possible,” she says. “I love sharing different flavors, so for me it’s about sharing the experience of educating consumers—and then getting the social aspect out of the way without spending money. I love that part too!”

Perhaps Danielle’s biggest love, however, is Laguna Beach.

“Laguna is such a unique entity unto itself. On this stretch of coast, it’s the only city I choose to live in because of the blend of people here that are world-conscious, involved in the community and close knit.”

Like many of the Laguna locals she loves, Danielle has learned to follow her natural flow.

“My whole progression back into bartending was very organic. I was learning how to go with the flow in Laguna, and it’s blessed me and provided for me in difficult times in my life. Returning to bartending was totally unexpected, but it was a gift. Opportunities arrive if you just kind of surrender and allow.”

Danielle's Peach, Laguna Beach Danielle, Laguna Beach
Danielle’s Signature Drink
SWEDISH PEACH (original recipe)
1 ounce Right Gin
½ ounce Cointreau
2 ounces fresh peach juice or puree
½ ounce simple syrup
½ ounce lime juice
3 torn basil leaves
*Shake and strain over crushed ice. Garnish with a peach slice and basil leaf.

“The key to any great drink is using fresh ingredients.”

From Cars to Bars
REBECCA RULE, 230 Forest Avenue Restaurant & Bar, 230 Forest Ave.

Like another bartender on our list, Rebecca Rule got into bartending after repeatedly getting laid off within her career.

Rebecca worked in Detroit as an automotive marketer for General Motors for 11 years when she was unexpectedly laid off, forcing her to move. She arrived in Laguna Beach seven years ago and took a job with Chrysler and several other companies, but she kept getting laid off because the automotive market had tanked.

Rebecca in Laguna Beach

Down and out, Rebecca met the owners of another bar in Laguna who taught her how to bartend five years ago. A year-and-a-half later, she came to 230 Forest and has been there ever since.

“I was forced to change careers, but I love bartending,” she says. “I love the fact that I’m meeting new people every day and also seeing the locals that I love every day.”

Summertime in Laguna is busy at 230 Forest, which becomes a hub for people patronizing the summer art festivals. Diana thrives on the fast-paced environment, but always makes room at her bar for her faithful regulars.

“I like that while I’m at work, people that I know will walk by and stop in to say ‘hi.’ Laguna is a very close-knit community. Everybody knows everybody … which can be good and bad at the same time,” she laughs.

230 Forest’s regulars may have noticed a change in Rebecca; she is expecting a baby in August.
“I will try to keep working at 230 Forest up until the last two weeks,” she says. Then, after a much-deserved maternity leave, she promises to return.

Rebecca at 230 Forest, Laguna Rebecca's Cucumber Martini, Laguna
Rebecca’s Favorite Drink
4 ounces Bombay Gin
½ ounce St. Germain
Splash of simple syrup
Soda water
Fresh squeezed lime
* Serve chilled and up with a cucumber garnish.

“I really like the Cucumber Cooler, and it’s one of our most popular cocktails,” she comments. “I also make a really good Bloody Mary that people like to come in and get; I’ll easily make 25 a day on the weekend.”

The California Girl
JILL McFADDEN, Mosun, 680 S. Coast Hwy.

Jill McFadden may have moved to California only two years ago, but this tall, leggy blonde already looks and acts the part of a true Southern Californian.

When she’s not behind the bar at Mosun, this Pennsylvania native can be found soaking up the outdoors doing stand-up paddleboarding, surfing or hiking. “I’m really enjoying Southern California,” she says.

Jill in Laguna Beach

Before moving to Laguna Beach, Jill, 31, traveled the world teaching English in Korea, China, Tibet, Nepal, India and Thailand. She now works full time for a cultural exchange nonprofit during the day helping high school students, college students and au pairs travel abroad or come to America.

“I lived overseas two years teaching English, so I really believe in helpful exchange,” she says. “I believe everybody should go overseas at some point their lives.”

Despite working an 8-to-5 job, Jill says she won’t be leaving bartending any time soon. “It’s addicting. The money’s good and I like socializing. It’s hard to walk away.”

Jill’s previous eight years of bartending experience were at local Pennsylvania pubs where she mainly poured beers and changed sports channels. After two years at Mosun, however, she prefers working in the vibrant, club-like atmosphere Mosun embodies.

“I like the fast pace better” Jill says. “It’s a younger, more positive crowd. I also love the girls I work with. It’s hard to find a place where you love coming into work, but I made really good friends here.”

Jill at Mosun, Laguna Jill's Stinger at Mosun, Laguna Beach
Jill’s Favorite Drink
2 ounces Patron Silver
½ ounce Citronge liqueur
Pineapple juice
*Serve chilled as a shot, up or on the rocks.

“I love Patron and I love top-shelf triple sec, so I always suggest this to people who are looking for a new drink.”

The Mixologist
TASHINA BROSS, Studio at Montage Laguna Beach, 30801 S. Coast Hwy.

Tashina Bross has a passion for creating unique drinks.

“I’m always thinking about what I can make next. Even at the grocery store, I’m like, ‘hmm … I wonder what I could do with this?’ ”

Tashina in Laguna Beach

Tashina, 28, began bartending nearly eight years ago at the Palms Casino in Las Vegas. Shortly after giving birth to their now 2-year-old son, however, Tashina and her husband moved to Monarch Beach to raise him in a more family oriented atmosphere.

“I’m from San Diego, so we knew Southern California was where we wanted to be as a family,” says the tiny brunette.

Tashina began bartending at the Montage shortly after she moved here a year and a half ago. Despite being a newbie, however, she has already established herself as a cocktail-creating guru. While she’s not the “official” mixologist at the Studio, she is often consulted for her take on new ingredients and recipes.

“I put a lot of creativity into my cocktails. I’m not just a drink mixer; I go above and beyond. That’s what I love,” she says.

A big part of that creativity comes from using the fresh produce Montage grows in the organic garden recently built right outside Studio. The garden is used by all the restaurants throughout the property and provides invaluable fresh ingredients to the staff. “I love that they allow me the opportunity to handcraft cocktails using fresh, handpicked fruits, vegetables and herbs from the garden,” Tashina comments. “It makes a huge difference in the way the drinks taste.”

Studio’s seasonal cocktail menu changes to reflect what’s growing in the new organic garden. The Studio’s Garden drink, for example, is made from fresh blackberries, lavender-infused syrup, fresh lime and Cachaça, a Brazilian rum made from cane sugar.

“People are coming here to a five-star restaurant to have creative, five-star cocktails and five-star service. You won’t find your typical vodka Red Bull here.”

Tashina's Primavera, Laguna Beach Tashina
Tashina’s Favorite Drink
2 ounces Ciroc vodka
White cranberry juice
Red seasonal grapes, slightly crushed
Basil sprigs
Elderflower blossom syrup
* Served tall, on the rocks.

“This is my favorite drink on the menu. The key is to crush the grapes just enough to release the juices. And don’t tear the basil leaves. Simply delicious.”

Boston’s Finest
SARAH DACEY, K’ya Bistro, 1287 S. Coast Hwy.
“No one ever leaves Boston,” says Sarah Dacey in her unmistakable Boston accent. But that’s exactly what this native of Beantown did, just after her 28th birthday.

Sarah recalls the “fateful” vacation she took with her best friend in January of 2009. “I came out for 11 days on vacation and I just didn’t go home. My last day when I had to fly home I found a job. And it was here.”

Sarah in Laguna

It was a tough move for Sarah, who says that in addition to a completely different lifestyle change, she had to get used to having her pay cut in half. “I’ve been bartending since I was 20. There was a huge income difference between bartending in Boston and here,” she says, but the attraction to Laguna Beach was enough to draw her away.

Sarah works five nights a week at K’ya and enjoys serving the mix of locals and visitors who stay at the hotel La Casa del Camino that K’ya is a part of. 

“The customers here are awesome. They’re really cool and laid-back,” she says. “I’m saying this from an outsider’s perspective—not being from Orange County—but they’re so not Orange County. I don’t know how to say that in a nice way, but they’re not. They’re just very down to earth.”

Sarah also enjoys meeting all the out-of-town guests who stay at the hotel.

“Some people are in town by themselves and you can tell they’re lonely,” she comments. “I like bartending because you get to change somebody’s night. If they come in a bad mood, I can kind of be in control of changing that. It’s nice to come in and have a sort of friend here because they get to know you a little bit.”

Sarah at K'ya, Laguna Beach Sara's Martini, Laguna Beach
Sarah’s Favorite Drink
4 ounces Ketel One vodka
3 strawberries
1/3 ounce aged balsamic vinegar
1 ounce simple syrup
2 squeezes of fresh lime
* Muddle the strawberries, balsamic vinegar, simple syrup and lime. Add Kettle One and shake vigorously.

“We got five new drinks on our menu for summer, and this one is amazing,” Sarah says. “People at first think the balsamic vinegar is weird, but it’s not. You taste every single level of this martini—you get the strawberry right off the bat; the vodka just a little; and then you taste the balsamic, which gives you that heat, and the lime juice to freshen it up. It’s so unique.”

The Teacher Behind the Bar
DIANA FRITZ, Mozambique, 1740 S. Coast Hwy.
Ask Mozambique regulars who their favorite bartender is, and one of their first replies is Diana Fritz.

Diana, 29, has been working at Mozambique since it opened six years ago, where she started as a hostess. In fact, some might remember her as the little, 18-year-old blonde hostess who greeted guests at the front door of Tortilla Flats—which used to occupy the Mozambique location before it moved to Mission Viejo.

Diana in Laguna Beach

Eleven years (and a brunette dye job) later, Diana can still be found at the old Tortilla Flats location, serving up exotic South African cocktails upstairs in Mozambique’s panoramic Shebeen Bar.

“I’ve been at Mozambique a long time. It’s a great place to work; it’s very family oriented,” says Diana, adding that she’s worked at other Laguna Beach restaurants that were too corporate for her liking.

“It’s refreshing to be at a place with one owner who truly cares about us. He’ll be the first to jump in to bus a table and help you out, which really helps with morale,” she comments. “I think without him, the doors at Mozambique wouldn’t be open anymore. He really runs a great business.”

Diana works full-time at Mozambique, but also works on-call as a substitute teacher for Saddleback Valley Unified School District. Bartending at Mozambique served as a flexible way for Diana to earn her bachelor degree in psychology at UC Irvine, where she later received her elementary teaching credential and master’s degree in education.

“I got my teaching credential in 2008, but given the way that the education setting is, especially in elementary, I have never been able to find a [full-time] job, simply because there aren’t any,” Diana says. She quickly adds that she’s OK with that, though. “I still have a great job, which is more than some people can say, so I’m thankful for that.”

Diana says she would eventually like to become a full-time teacher, but in the meantime she’s happy bartending at Mozambique and planning her wedding to her fiancé, whom she met 11 years ago while hosting at Tortilla Flats.

“We’ve been together 11 years and are getting married 11/11/11. It’s funny how things work out.”

Diana's Mojito, Laguna Beach Diana at Mozambique, Laguna Beach
Diana’s Favorite Drink
2 ounces citrus vodka
Muddled red grapes and lemon
Top with Sprite and a splash of Chambord

“Mozambique has a lot of signature drinks made with fresh juices like lychee juice, guava juice and passion fruit juice,” she says. “The African Mojito is probably our most popular.”

Bartending Legends of Laguna—Where are They Now?
The legend continues. You can find all your favorite bartenders from our original 2007 article still behind the bar, save for two: Gibbie Whelehan from Montage Laguna Beach and Lee Garrett from The Cabana, which closed in 2008.

Dan Vincent from 230 Forest in Laguna
DAN THE MARTINI MAN, 230 Forest Ave.

You can read all about the remaining bartending legends—Bobby Doerr from The Saloon, Chuck Harell from Sandpiper, Dan Vincent from 230 Forest Avenue, Jon Daube from The Whitehouse, and Robby Boyd from Marine Room—in our article archives at Click here Bartending Legends of Laguna.


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