WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Mixologist Addison Kester dreams
them up at 515 Kitchen & Cocktails
BY ELIZABETH LIMBACH
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TED HOLLADAY
Some call it Five-One-Five, while others, including head mixologist and manager Addison Kester, call it Five-Fifteen. Even the mouthful Five Hundred and Fifteen would be admissible, says Kester. “It’s a place of many names, I guess,” he laughs.
Thanks to Kester, a 25-year-old Santa Cruz native and UC Santa Cruz alumnus who became manager of 515 Kitchen & Cocktails at the barely legal age of 21, the place is now best known for its creative and delicious mixed drinks—and their equally creative names, which are laced with pop culture references.
The Never Knows Best, for instance, is a nod to the Japanese anime program Fooly Cooly, and was born from Kester’s desire to create a great fernet and Jameson drink. (The secret to his original treatment of the popular pours can be found in the recipe opposite.) Kester’s vision for inventive concoctions means frequent tweaks to the drinks menu, which, like the dinner menu, is composed of fresh and largely local and seasonal ingredients.
Kester and his team of seven bartenders make weekly trips to the farmers’ market that pops up directly across the street every Wednesday, where they pick up ingredients like cilantro, kiwis and strawberries. His greatest passion, however, is preserving the many seasonal flavors of Santa Cruz in elixirs that can be used year-round, namely, in home-crafted infusions and simple syrups.
“There are so many things that Santa Cruz can offer, but that you can’t get year-round,” he says. “It’s the idea of creating something that you know will be consistent three months from now if you make a couple batches.”
Kester’s cocktail menu is sprinkled with the resulting housemade simple syrups (including ginger, strawberry-cilantro, Earl Grey and black pepper) and alcohol infusions (thyme bourbon, Earl Grey gin, and cucumber vodka among them). Kester’s latest experiment is a coffee cocktail that uses house-infused Verve coffee whiskey with homemade pecan coffee bitters.
The reward of all this passion and effort is that despite having one of the tiniest bars in town (two bartenders barely fit behind it; three is pushing it), “we pump out enough volume to contend with some of the big boys in town,” Kester says. And voters in annual local newspaper contests consistently pick the 6-year-old establishment when it comes to “Best Drinks.”
As for Kester’s own story, 515 is a central theme. Sitting down with a Never Knows Best amidst the couches, dim lighting and fireplaces that the bar uses to produce a classic lounge-y, 1930s speakeasy effect, he admits: “I’m here all the time.”
And even when he’s not working, the young manager isn’t far— he rents an apartment across the street and organizes weekly get-togethers at nearby Verve Cofee Roasters for the staff to brainstorm ideas and discuss new drinks.
“I love what this establishment is about,” Kester says. “I would hope one day to either own this place, or own my own bar that is similar to it.”
515 Kitchen & Cocktails
515 Cedar St., Santa Cruz • 831.648.8880
Elizabeth Limbach is an award-winning journalist living in Santa Cruz, California. In this fruitful region and beyond, she finds the intersections of food, ag, health and the environment to be the most intriguing realms to write about. A bookworm and vegan foodie, the San Diego native has lived in Santa Cruz for a decade, relishing its redwood forests, fresh produce, delicious wines, and sparkling sea.