One of the first bars in Durango that I fell in love with was El Moro. At first it was the atmosphere, the faux industrial, old-school look. Then it was the cheese and charcuterie board. Then it was the amazing cocktails. Then it was all the whiskeys you could imagine. The ambiance, the quality of the food and drink, and the depth of the liquor menu all put together to make it my favorite bar. It was once I started going a lot that I realized all those things that I fell in love with are just the surface. What really makes El Moro great is the staff. They are the most knowledgeable, generous, interesting, and fun staff.
All of the staff that I know are totally worthy of having a feature written about them, and hopefully I’ll get to that (Elias, Jess, Sarah, it’s gonna happen!), but while I was in Durango I had an awesome sit-down with Lucas Hess, one of the excellent bartenders at El Moro.
Lucas is originally from Owasso Oklahoma, a suburb of Tulsa. He got to Durango by transferring from Oklahoma State to Fort Lewis. Other than a few guest bartender spots around town and Arizona, El Moro has been lucky to see the majority of his efforts since he started bartending there three years ago. Lucas is also an amazing photographer and award-winning skateboarder (he recently won “best trick” at the TIU4 Tyler skate competition in Durango). Our conversation started over a hazy IPA from Odd 13 Brewing in Lafayette (Colorado) called Codename: Superfan and then meandered through sours, ending on an amazing cocktail, Caballo y Corazon, from El Moro’s recent tequila dinner. Long afternoon conversations like this are the reason I love Durango and will keep coming back for the rest of my life.
Since this is a beer column, I’ll start with a beer question:
El Moro has a very wide selection of cans and bottles, but only four taps that seem to change constantly. What criteria do you guys have when selecting beer and what is the end goal of the beer served in El Moro?We are looking for the most well-made beer, by style, in the world. We love our local beer, and usually have something local on tap, but we’re also trying to expose people to something they don’t see everyday. And our GM, Dave Woodruff is a certified Cicerone and he makes sure we’re getting a steady stream of good beer.
I definitely come to El Moro for the amazing beer selection, but I think most people know the place for the cocktails. What is it that makes El Moro standout in this regard?I think it’s definitely our focus and connection to our ingredients and the attention to detail of our staff. It’s one of the reasons we don’t batch our ingredients or list the liquor brands going into our cocktails, because we want customers to choose drinks based on those ingredients, not on a brand of liquor they know. In the end, the customers know that we’re going to take care of them, and there’s a lot of trust there.
One of the things that blew me away when I first found out, was how good you are at skateboarding. Where did that come from and how does that passion transfer into your work behind the bar?Well I started when I was 8 years old, watching neighborhood kids do tricks over a manhole while I was trying to land ollies in the grass. I think there’s a lot of parallels, creativity obviously, but there’s also repetition. When you see someone land a trick, there were probably dozens of failed attempts that went into landing it. It’s kind of like our seasonal cocktail menu: by the end of the season, after we’ve been making them for two and a half months, the flavors and presentations are on point every time.
Robert Alan Wendeborn is a former cellar operator at Ska Brewing and current lead cellar operator at Tin Roof Brewing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.