Bartender Chat: Dino of Bistro Lancaster

Categories: Bartender Chat

dinolancaster.jpg
As of this Sunday, I'll be a Montrosian (?) again. For the past year, I've been living Downtown and have really loved every minute of it. I learned so much about my city, rode my bike and walked everywhere, admired our beautiful skyline nightly, experienced great new watering holes and cafés, and met some fantastic people. When I'd pass a place I had never patronized, I put it on my little Downtown "to-do" list. I tried to visit as many new places as I could, but not being made of money, there are several spots that aren't crossed off. Bistro Lancaster was on that list until last night.

My favorite places in town are the ones steeped in history -- establishments with character and a maybe a little mystique. Originally The Auditorium Hotel (Jones Hall was the City Auditorium), it was built in 1926 by Houston investor Michele DeGeorge. In 1983, it was given a makeover and renamed Lancaster, and it became the city's first boutique hotel.

We stopped in for a cocktail and met cordial and enthusiastic bartender Dino (dee-no, not dino like dinosaur), who offered anecdotes about the hotel's morally questionable past, telling us it used to be a "gentleman's hotel" and that we could interpret that any way we chose. Dino's got a great attitude and genuinely cares about making guests feel welcome. It's pretty damn refreshing.

So where are you from?
Former Yugoslavia. I've been in Houston for about 12 years.

How long have you been bartending?
About 11 years. I started working at the St. Regis, where Harry Spitzer was my mentor for many years. I moved over to this corner around 2003.

How would you describe the bar's aesthetic?
It's really one-of-a-kind. It's traditional.

How would you describe the crowd?
On weekends we get lots of suits and ties going to a show or the symphony, and during the week, it's the business crowd. It's very different from the other bars around town. We get lots of people in oil and gas, attorneys. With the regulars, it takes years to build the relationships. Sometimes it's a challenge. I read four or five different newspapers just to keep up with them. They'll throw you questions, quiz you on what is going on in every country and you have to be on top of it.

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Inside Bistro Lancaster

Is the Lancaster haunted?
Some folks say it's haunted. Sometimes the glasses will shake. I was in the basement at three in the morning, and I've heard things. I've heard stories. They say there's a lady on the 12th floor. There has been some scary stuff happen at this hotel over the years. This used to be Houston's red light district. But it's like, if you believe in it, you'll see it, and if you don't, you won't.

Do you have a specialty or a drink you pride yourself on?
I pride myself on my traditional martini. In my earlier years as a bartender, an older gentleman came in and ordered a gin martini, so I made it for him, and he was like "I'll teach you how to make a gin martini." You don't shake it, you bruise it. I have a version of a cosmopolitan, it's a kiwi-infused vodka with Cointreau, cranberry and topped with champagne. I call it Dino's Martini. I made it for a Pink Martini show across the street at Jones Hall. Also, I smile while I'm making my drinks. You have to be happy while you're doing it; people can taste the difference.

I love my job. That's the only reason I do it. Anyone can be a bartender, but if you don't have love and passion, the drink is going to taste awful. I mean, everyone's got problems. There's a trash can outside that door. When I come in here, that's where I leave my trash.

Being in the heart of the Theater District, do you make drinks for many celebrities?
I had a famous gentleman come in here. He asked my name, I told him, Dino. He said "No, tonight your name is Vino." I said, "No, it's Dino." He throws a $100 bill on the bar. "Say your name is Vino." I said no. Throws $200 down. "Your name is Vino." I said no. He throws $300, $400, $500... I said "You can drop $1000, you can't buy me." Guy couldn't believe it. It's principle. I have pride. Who are you, thinking you can come in here, and make me dance? It's the principle. When he was leaving, he said "Look at all my buddies around me. I can buy them for $100, but I couldn't buy you for $500 for just changing your name. I respect you." I said "I respect you too, have a good night"... Celebrity, lawyer or construction worker, when they get drunk, it's the same thing.

On your off hours, where do you like to go to get a drink or dinner?
Well, I don't drink alcohol, but I go to coffee shops -- Agora, Onion Creek, places that serve good espresso. Restaurant-wise, I like Oishii and Phoenicia. I lived in the Middle East for two-and-a-half years, in Amman, Jordan. It was a good experience.

Because I spend 40 hours a week in a restaurant, when I go out to eat, I go because I'm hungry, not to socialize. I eat quickly and leave. I can sit at a coffee shop for five hours, but when I comes to food, 10 minutes, in and out.

**Wildcard Question**
What one talent of yours do you wish people would recognize?

Love and passion for my work.

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Photo via thelancaster.com

Next time you're in the neighborhood, stop by the bar at Bistro Lancaster, located inside the Lancaster Hotel at 701 Texas, and say hi to Dino. He'll make you one hell of a good martini, complete with hand-stuffed blue cheese olives. Just don't call him Vino.



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Bistro Lancaster

701 Texas Ave., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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11 comments
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Mark5
Mark5

Really a whole blog about this schmuck!  I stayed at the hotel and he just seemed to know more about hitting on women and talking then making a drink.  I understand it runs in the business but come on.

David1994
David1994

You are awesome!!!!!!!!  Love your martinis 

Diane
Diane

I miss the Lancaster...living in FLA now, that was a fun place to work! It is haunted..the rose perfume.

Ljohnson813
Ljohnson813

Dino you are more than what they say, drinks come out so good because he truly makes it with love and passion. There is another bartender that works there when Dino is not there. He should learn some things from Dino about guest service.

John154
John154

We read blog about Dino. I have to say that me and my husban were amazed with martinis. Dino is not only great bartender, also very educated. He is way too educated to be bartender. Dino you are awsome.

Schnider
Schnider

He is amazing Bartender. Lancaster should be proud to have Dino as Bartender.

Sandra Lord
Sandra Lord

It's folks like Dino at The Lancaster that helped me decide to start all Houston Urban Adventures at this great hotel. Drop by and say hello to the rest of the staff and savor the relaxing atmosphere.

Jasonofthesea
Jasonofthesea

How would you describe the bar's aesthetic?

"It's really one-of-a-kind. It's traditional."

Robin
Robin

He sounds like a really classy and interesting guy.  I have to get there to have his martini for sure.

His picture looks eerily like Chrisitina Ricci.  I only say eery because I assume he is not, actually, her twin.

Laurie
Laurie

Reminds me of an Eastern Eurpoean bartender we met at the Arctic Club in Seattle. Same situation old 'gentlemens' hotel w antique bar built in the 20's fully restored. That guy was awesome too. Absinthe drinks kicked my ass.

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