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  • Writer's pictureJarnard Sutton

Behind the Stick with Thomas Carrara of Side Bar

This is Thomas Carrara aka @craftandculinary — He’s doing great things over at Side Bar. I had the opportunity to learn his story and try one of their popular cocktails called “The Duchess.” It’s spicy, earthy and refreshing!

The Duchess



1.5 Ghost pepper infused tequilla .75 lime juice 1 basil leaf 3 blackberries .75 agave

Blackberries and basil as the garnish as a flower

What's the story behind The Duchess?

We were looking to make a cocktail that was alluring, spicy, and refreshing with robust flavors. The Duchess is Side Bar in a glass: sexy and mysterious.

Describe the taste flavor profiles.

We use fresh basil and blackberries in the cocktail as well as a spicy ghost tequilla to give it a spicy kick that sets it apart from other margarita variations.

What kind of experience can guests get at Side Bar?

My favorite part of bartending is the guest interactions — meeting new people everyday, introducing them to our creations. Whether people are visiting us to enjoy delicious bites in the lounge or try one of my new creations, I want everyone to have an experience that they’re raving about. Everyone at Side Bar is welcomed like family, that’s our mantra and we live it!

What's unique about the cocktails here at Side Bar?

What’s special about the cocktails at Side Bar is there’s something for everyone. The wide variety of different cocktails please pretty much any palate! Also, you can always find me coming up with something creative weekly combining flavors into syrups with the same mindset a chef uses to create his proudest dishes.

About Thomas Carrara

Are you from San Diego?

I am a New Jersey native and moved to San Diego about one year ago.

How has your journey been leading up to your role at Side Bar?

I started out bartending in New Jersey. My thirst for knowledge had me study wine, beer, and spirits which earned me the role of beverage manager for an Iron Chef. That lead me to have opportunities in other positions in the hospitality industry such as floor sommelier at Del Friscos Steakhouse; making scotch in Scotland and being the brand ambassador for multiple large liquor brands. I earned the position at Side Bar by presenting 10 drinks to RMD Group. I ended up presenting the most creative cocktail and was offered the position of craft cocktail lead at Side Bar and am so proud to be whipping up libations in this role.

What's your thought process when creating a cocktail menu?

I like to make sure my cocktail lists showcase a variety of different flavors. The Coppa Mule uses a lot of tiki-inspired flavors and combines fresh lime, ginger and peach with a spiced rum while the Smoke Show highlights the beautiful flavor of passion fruit combined with a smoky mezcal. There’s really something for everyone on the Side Bar cocktail list!

What's your favorite cocktail on the menu?

My favorite cocktail is definitely the Hush Money. I love how the cinnamon and banana complement the beautiful oak flavors of the aged bourbon to create a very well-balanced cocktail.

Define the perfect cocktail.

Define the perfect cocktail.

The perfect cocktail is balanced — some being spirit forward and showing of the nuances of the liquor being used. More indirect cocktails have that zip of crisp acidity, making you want to take your next sip.

What's your favorite drink to make behind the bar?

My favorite drink to make behind the bar is a margarita. There’s a secret to making the perfect margarita — you’ll have to come in and try one to find out what it is.

What should everyone stock in their home bar?

What everyone should stock on their home bar is a botanical forward gin. Old Harbor, Botanist, or Monkey 47 are a few of my favorites because they can be served neat, in a cocktail or over ice with soda. The nuances really come through, making gin one of the most versatile spirits to stock in a home bar.

What is one thing you wish people understood about bartending?

One thing I wish people understood was how long it takes to come up with a new, different cocktail list. It can rival the time it takes for the most accomplished chefs to come up with a beautiful, high end menu.

What do you do in your spare time when you're not creating cocktails?

In my spare time you can find me hiking or in the gym. Anything fitness-related!

What's next for you?

Next for me is to finish the Craft and Culinary beginners in bartending book. It will teach people new to the industry how to combine flavors that mesh well and offer some simplified versions of more advanced bartending techniques. I’m also working on Side Bar’s spring menu which will highlight fresh California flavors — be sure to come by and check what new creations we’re working on!

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