Laurel Oldershaw is an athlete, mixologist at two of D.C.’s most prominent cocktail bars — Allegory and Serenata — and the founder and GM of Bay Leaf Bitters, a sports and cocktail bar that celebrates and highlights women, trans, nonbinary and genderqueer folks in sports. The bar currently operates as a pop-up concept with the goal to eventually open a brick-and-mortar space in D.C. We caught up with Oldershaw to explore her journey and the lessons she brings from the playing field to her craft.
District Fray: When did you know you wanted to make a career out of immersing yourself in cocktail culture? How has your view of the profession evolved?
Laurel Oldershaw: When I first started in the industry, it brought back memories of cooking with my Jewish grandmothers and sharing a big Passover meal with [multiple] courses of food and rounds of wine. My first passion in life [is] elite and professional sports, my second is definitely food and drink. I found that over time as I [learned] more about spirits and steps of service, I was in [the same] flow state bartending as I was on an ultimate frisbee field.
How would you define your approach to mixology? What inspires you creatively?
I believe a cocktail is like a story: It has a beginning, middle and end. I want each cocktail to tell a story, celebrate someone or be what someone drinks to celebrate. I’m lucky to be surrounded by incredible teams at Allegory and Serenata, who are constantly raising the bar when it comes to technique and execution. And who, thankfully, put up with my barrage of questions and bad jokes. My job right now is coming up with stories and experimenting with new flavors and styles of cocktails; it’s like a creative writing seminar with liquor. I love it.
As a lifelong athlete, are there lessons you bring from the playing field?
Definitely. Like a great athlete, no great bartender is an island. In order to be successful at your sport, you need teammates, people competing (or serving) with you and people advocating for you. You need to practice your skills constantly to develop and improve muscle memory. You also need a certain level of creativity and improvisational skills. No matter what you strategize for, anything can happen and you have to adjust in the moment. When you watch a team play with great chemistry in a beautiful flow state, it’s [similar to] watching an incredible service team in action.
Enjoy this piece? Consider becoming a member for access to our premium digital content. Support local journalism and start your membership today.