Bartender and Consultant Will Estrada, also known as The Joker Bartender, is dependable, resilient, and collaborative. Estrada’s ability to adapt under pressure, step up when he is needed most, and work with a team has played a crucial role in his life and his career. Having worked in bars and restaurants with toxic working environments, Estrada thrives at Groot Hospitality which boasts a passionate, supportive, and encouraging team of professionals. As both a bartender and consultant, Estrada approaches his job with a fun attitude. He not only wants to have a good time but he also wants to make sure that everyone who tries his delicious, creative cocktails has a great experience too!
What was your initial reaction to Miami’s hospitality industry? How did this reaction change over time?
When I started in Miami, I hated bartending. It was horrendous. I stopped bartending and got a busser/ runner/server jobs––anything to avoid getting behind the bar. One day, I was working at a restaurant and they opened a new pool bar but none of the bartenders showed up. They went partying. The manager put me in charge of the bar. I had no idea what to do. Then, I ended up staying at the pool bar and it was fun. It was nice to talk to people, meet people, and make drinks. By that time, I didn’t drink alcohol. I only followed a recipe. I didn’t have my first drink of liquor until I was 25. I got an opportunity to work at Fontainebleau’s service bar. When I left there, I started getting into craft cocktails and read about craft cocktails. I learned about wine and became a sommelier. I then worked in management and learned that bartending was more than making drinks behind a bar. I was doing what a chef would do. I was mixing flavors.
Where else did you bartend in Miami?
I got a chance to open a place on West Avenue. It was the first full bar that I took care of. It was a challenge. It was a huge bar in a restaurant with around three hundred seats. I had no idea what I was doing. They told me they needed a new cocktail menu and I had to come up with it. That was fun. People ended up liking my drinks. I got into it. I read a lot of books. At some point, I got decent enough to run places. I worked at Repour. It was a local cocktail bar. I got to work with a great team. They had the most imaginative craft cocktails there. When I started there was a whole new team of bartenders, the three of us came up with the menu and that menu was probably the best that I ever made.
What inspired you to become a bar consultant?
I started helping out with some bars. I did the menus and helped with their training. I liked the creative part. I like coming up with cocktails. I got really into consulting in multiple bars. I would go into hotels and look at their cocktail programs. I would look at twelve bar restaurants. That’s how my consulting started.
You call yourself “The Joker Bartender”. What inspired this name?
Since I was a kid, I loved The Joker. I watched all the cartoons and I first saw The Joker in a comic book. I saw the comic and read the story. What I like about The Joker is not the same as The Joker everyone sees now: crazy, narcissist, murder. The original Joker was meant to be a one time character. He was supposed to be a villain that died or disappeared. People saw him as a nobody but fans loved him so much that he became iconic. I always thought that this guy was meant to be nothing but he became one of the most iconic characters in comics. I don’t see him as a villain but that is a different story…I admired his journey. I got a tattoo of him on my arm because it reminds me of the struggles that I had as a kid. Coming to Miami was hard too and now I am in a better position than I was when I started. Also, I have The Joker on my arm. A lot of people would tag me as “the Joker Bartender” on social media and the name stuck.
What does it mean for you to be working with Groot Hospitality? What values do you share with the company?
I have worked with the company for a while. I like that Groot Hospitality is not just telling you to come to have a meal and go home. We’re all about coming to have a meal and to stay with us. You have a drink, you enjoy the music and you have a great time. We like creating an environment that you want to stay in. You see that every staff member loves being here. It’s always fun. We have a lot of energy. We are not a stuck up company that might be doing it for the glory or that might not care if anyone else is struggling. From the owners to management, everybody has the same wants and goals. I’ve enjoyed it so far and that’s why I’m still here.
What are your favorite aspects of the job?
I have always admired Chefs. It’s impressive what they do with food. They’ll list the ingredients and it will be these amazing flavors that I have never tried in my life. Bartenders are doing what a Chef does: we play with flavors. I started thinking less about making people drunk and more about giving people a product that they would love. I wanted to give them something they wanted to sip, enjoy, and love. I don’t want to be just the guy who pours shots but the guy who makes something original, something that excites people when they come to the bar.
You have worked with Komodo, Swan, and other restaurants. How did you come up with the beverage list of each restaurant? How did you make these lists unique?
I like playing around with the Chef. I try to know what they are doing in the kitchen. You’ll see me in the kitchen asking questions. I like to taste whatever they have there. I’m the guy with the Snoopy face hanging around and trying to try everything. I want to understand what the chef is doing so I can do a cocktail that you can pair with a meal. It’s like having a glass of wine and steak or fish. It’s the same with a cocktail. Why can’t you pair a cocktail with food? Because I had the chance to work with a few celebrity chefs and have enjoyed working with them, I started seeing what flavors work in a cocktail.
If you had your own drink, bar, or business, what would it be like and why?
I call my home bar “The Clown Den” so that’s probably what my bar would be. I’ve always wanted to have a nice craft tail bar. A little speakeasy. Nothing huge. I would probably have ten seats at the bar and a couple of tables. I’ve always wanted my own bar and someday, I hope I get one.
How may we follow your journey? Do you have any social media accounts or websites that you would like to share?
Instagram: @the_clown_den and @will_e_artpag
**All images by @blazinvisualz