A member of the Tales Dames Hall of Fame since 2012, a 2014 Bartender of the Year by Imbibe magazine, a published author and the owner/creator/powerhouse behind one of the Top 5 Bars in America named by Bon Appetit––Alba Huerta is a force to be admired in this industry. But, really in all industries. She’s a champion for women and for the Latinx community, who was born in Mexico and raised in Texas. And while it’s certainly easy to say she’s an influential, groundbreaking hospitality figure and could chat on cocktails all day, you might just stump her if you ask what her favorite musical genre is.
“My music style is a tough one to pin down,” she laughs. “My first language is Spanish, so that really opens up to a lot of different music from a lot of different countries. That’s naturally the language I speak in my head, which would make sense that I’m drawn to it first, but then there is that soulful quality of music sung in Spanish.”
As for her sources of new music? That’s straight from hospitality.
“A lot of my music discovery comes from my staff,” she says, “depending on what was being played in the kitchen. It’s a really eclectic mix compared to what we can play in the main bar, and I love that. I also have a surreal number of cousins, and I have to credit them. We are in this giant WhatsApp thread and birthdays alone happen nearly every day. I get a lot of new discoveries from that, too.”
You start her Sultry and Rooted Spotify collection with an artist named Rebecca Lane––a Guatemalan composer, rapper, and activist––alongside Miss Bolivia, who merges Hip Hop with Electronic. The track is Libre, Atrevida y Loca, and it’s a powerful beat that brings you straight to the streets of South and Central America, to a mental place of a real loud, excited party. Lauryn Hill comes in next, bringing a soulful rap on Doo Wop and taking a lot of us right back to the ‘90s.
“I think we just describe this as a Southern Tropical Drink,” Huerta says of her cocktail to go alongside this playlist––named The Sultry and Rooted––with Basil Hayden, lime, pineapple gomme syrup, Martini Rossi Fiero, and her own Tamarind tincture. Pretty as a picture, it’s garnished with a tuft of mint, lemon wheel, and edible flowers.
Shake, strain, garnish and hit play again. There are great horns, bass, and drums coming, particularly in Gwan by The Suffers. It’s got a vibe and lyrics that could easily soundtrack a fantastic car-chase movie from the ‘70s. Shakira’s Ceiga, Sordomuda carries us forward, as well as some Mariah Carey to Gaga. The finish is the very emotional song, Stay by Rhianna. This playlist has a lot of culture and emotion. It spans Spanish-speaking regions but retains a universal backbone of punchy jam.
If you need to get out of a funk, to shake off the day or the entire weight of the pandemic, and slide across your floors in your socks, this is your playlist. And we are here to give you absolute permission.
Title and Cocktail photo by Julie Soefer