Fastest shaker in the West
When he’s good, he’s very very good, but when he’s bad he’s horrid.
So says Jean McLaughlin about Julian Torres, bartender extraordinaire or, at the very least, a very popular mix man. Torres has been voted best bartender for the past two years by Vail Daily readers in its annual “Best Of” readers’ choice survey.
“He’s a very fast and efficient bartender, but if it’s not busy, he’s a brat because he doesn’t have anything to do,” said McLaughlin, laughing.
McLaughlin is a manager at Fiesta’s in Edwards, where Torres tends bar four nights a week, providing he hasn’t gotten a better offer – like a squash game or a run down the river.
“Hey, I never mean any harm,” said Torres. “I just have a low tolerance for stupidity or ignorance. I have no patience with rude or impatient people. There’s really no need – I’m fast enough.”
What he does
Watching Torres in action, it’s easy to see why he’s popular in the polls. In the thick of the winter or summer seasons, Fiesta’s can be beyond busy – three-deep at the bar, to go orders ringing off the hook, the restaurant packed to the gills with thirsty folks. Torres tends to all of it and still has time to flip a bottle, banter with patrons and harass the wait staff. He likes to perform when kids are watching, especially if their parents aren’t.
“I mess with the kids,” said Torres. “They’re my favorite customers.”
He’s been called cocky more than once. Observing him, the description seems partly a stage persona, and partly the real deal. Though he didn’t intend to become a bartender while in school for hotel and restaurant management, he fills the job naturally. His hands move independently of each other, which adds to the blur of motion that is Julian Torres behind the bar. But put him at a table in a restaurant and he’s relaxed and patient, taking it all in.
Drinking is a respected and integral institution in the West, so bartenders often have a sacred place of honor in drinkers’ lives.
“At one point, we were psychoanalysts,” said Torres. “Not so much anymore, though people do tell me stuff I’m floored with. They want someone who’s a friend, a go-to guy and a mixologist. Most people don’t want advice, they just want to vent.”
As for Torres, he doesn’t have much to vent about – except the way people behave at the movies. He might not care much about pro sports, but films are a different story. He loves all sorts of genres.
“I think theater rage is going to be the next big issue,” he said. “I think people have lost the sense of going to the movies. Not only do they take their cell phones, they answer them. They talk in the theater – maybe they’re used to seeing movies at home.”
Road to the Rockies
Torres has lived all over the world. Born in Columbia, he moved to Iowa when he was 5. From there his family went to Mexico City, then Nairobi, Kenya, all by the time he was 18. He’s got a tattoo of Africa on his leg and named his dog Kenya, proof he holds that time of his life near and dear to his heart.
“I was there in ’83 to ’86,” he said. “It was a stable country, not like what it’s about now. A real laid back place, and Kenyans are the nicest, humblest people. If you believe in evolution, that’s the cradle of humanity.”
“I don’t believe in God,” he said.
But something kept the teen-aged Torres safe while in Nairobi. He and his friends would hitchhike all over the place. If they couldn’t snag a ride home after dancing at a club, they’d hoof it home, a journey that took 5 hours.
“People weren’t the danger,” he said. “It was lions and leopards. You’d hear something in the bushes and get freaked out.”
At 18, Torres attended college in Pennsylvania, and graduated to live in Washington, D.C. and Kansas. He discovered Colorado on a vacation with his future ex-wife in 1996. The couple, along with her Pueblo-based father, went tooling through the mountains, a trek that landed them at State Bridge Lodge for a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon. One thing led to another and he fell in love with the place. Within a couple of weeks they’d packed up their house, quit their Kansas City jobs and moved to the Rockies. He became the kitchen manager at State Bridge, which put him close to what became one of his two great loves: rafting. Located right on the river, State Bridge is a natural stopping point for rafters.
“Colorado River Guides rented Duckies out, those inflatable solo kayaks,” reminisced Torres. “I could have bought my own Duckie for all the rental fees I paid that summer. I thought it was the coolest thing. I knew someday I had to have my own raft and I had to become a guide, which I did.”
He doesn’t guide professionally anymore, preferring to take his own trips with friends.
The other love
Squash has become an addiction for Torres. When given a choice between playing squash, rafting or sex, his answer was immediate:
“There’s enough time in a day to do all three.”
He’s attracted to the challenging nature of the sport, which requires both physical and mental acumen.
“It’s been referred to as physical chess,” he said. “It’s challenging, fun and fast. Forbes listed it as the healthiest sport – but that’s not why I play it. I just love it.”
Topping his to-do list is a rematch with local veterinarian Ron Gruber, who schooled Torres a couple of years ago.
“I want to play Ron Gruber on my home court,” he said.
“He’s probably improved quite a bit in the past two years,” said Gruber about the challenge. “I’ll answer the call, but I’m still picking me.”
Since meeting Torres on the squash court, Gruber also has visited him at Fiesta’s. As for similarities between Torres’s bartending style and squash style, Gruber was succint:
“He’s fast and flashy at both.”
What he wants
Torres lives in Edwards and doesn’t have any intention of moving soon. Though bartending wasn’t in his master plan as a student, he’s content.
“The money is good, it’s fun and for the most part they (Fiesta’s) treat me above average,” he said. But he does have a few long-term goals.
“I’d like to become a Scotch drinker, because it would make me look smarter,” he teased. “I’d like to find true love – most people want to but settle for whatever comes first or second. I just want to be happy. I don’t need a lot of luxury in my life, that’s why I live here.”
But he does need a squash court, a rolling river and a bar full of people. How else would he stay out of trouble?
To fruit or not to fruit?
“I don’t put limes in Mexican beer. I think it’s a nasty habit and I’m out to abolish it.”
Where’s his family from?
“We’re all 100 percent Colombian, like the coffee.”
What’s his dog, Kenya, like?
“Neurotic like most women, but a sweetheart – like most women. I’ve only had her for 3 years. I’m still getting to know her.”
“Three weeks in fine dining. I hated it. Too much unnatural ass kissing. That doesn’t work in my family.”