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4 Culinary & Beverage Artists to Know in Columbus, Ohio in 2024: Genevieve Johnson - ‘I Like It Like That’

I met Genevieve’s work a few years ago at Rooh Columbus, I always came back to the restaurant because the food was (and is) just great, but I also knew I was going get a treat on the beverage front. At the time, I didn’t know if the reason I liked their cocktails that much was because of the unknown culture factor for me (this is an Indian restaurant). Turns out, I unconsciously followed Genevieve to all her future and delicious ventures and now here we are, ready to talk at this gorgeous and eclectic bar she now manages.

Hi! It’s so good to see you! First off, tell me about yourself.


My name is Genevieve. I grew up in Cincinnati and I don't know if I really decided to become a mixologist, but craft bartending was always interesting to me. And so, one day I walked into Denmark, saw what bars could be, saw what cocktails could be, and then I just realized how cool that world was to me. I always worked in the industry, and I really loved the service industry already, but just after that Denmark visit, it just kind of snowballed and spiraled and kept going until now, sitting at I like it like that talking to Daniel.


Where do you get your inspiration to come up with such crazy and creative cocktail recipes?


It is kind of funny because every cocktail starts from a different point of view in my brain. Lately, names inspire me a lot! There is something interesting to me and the fact that I can try and create a cocktail that can taste like a word. But of course, depending on the day and mood, flavors and even colors can be a great source of inspiration to me too.


But yeah, Lindsay Koontz (‘I like it like that’ co-manager) and I worked really crazy hard on our current cocktail menu, and it definitely jumps every which way around. All the cocktails that we created started very differently. Inspiration is everywhere.


Would you say that you design your menus to give people what they want, or do you always try to put your creative mind first?


Fully balanced? We need to understand that not everyone likes cocktails in general. So, we do have a really extensive classics list in order to make our menu approachable, for sure. Our objective here is to focus on the inclusivity of palates, financial status and drinking status at the same time. If you don’t want to drink, just come over and have fun with a non-alcoholic beverage, have a $9 classic or have a crazy experience with our $21 options too.


How would you describe your cocktail making style?


I usually have several notebooks while I'm starting a menu and planning work, but I am also definitely a free spirit. In general, I like to plan the spirits I will use, the flavors I want to achieve and line up the techniques I will need to use. After that is defined, then comes the definition of flavor profiles. At the end of the day, you must be organized when designing and executing a menu.


Would you say you lean towards a specific flavor, texture or technique? Do you have favorites?


I like to make drinks that don't make sense sometimes. love when you read a cocktail list, or a cocktail ingredient list and you immediately go: ‘I don't think that these flavors should work together’. But when you try it and it's a symphony that it's where it needs to be, THAT is the most wonderful feeling ever. I really enjoy when I get customers that don’t necessarily are gin lovers but after tasting and giving me an opportunity, I end up converting a gin-person.


On the other side, I enjoy way less when people ask for extra simple drinks but give us very specific instructions on how to make it, take a good old ‘vodka soda’ for example, it’s not fun when we hear ‘less, less, oh… more, more” <laughs>.


And don’t get me wrong, I love making dealers choices. One time a customer came in and ask me to make a cocktail named “Don’t make it weird”, I was immediately excited. That was the first time someone's ever given me the name of a cocktail for me to make and interpret whatever it meant to me. That was so much fun! You can’t understand this, I got, I got really-really excited about it. All I could think of was: ‘Don't make it weird. Don't make it weird. Don't make it weird’. That phrase is usually used amongst good friends, what are friends though? Yes, a friend is a comfort… Anyway, I ended up using espresso, milk, bitters -of course- and some spices, my client loved it… I think.


 What kind of advice would you give the new people that are trying to make it as a successful or known mixologist?  


I think the biggest thing about being, and not to not use that term, but I, I do like to call myself more of like a Craft Bartender. To your question, I am so happy to see so many people are coming up. It's so awesome and it's really cool that you are asking me this because I still see myself as someone that is still trying to make a name for myself in the city. I would say, keep up your passion and make what makes you happy.


A lot of great people have a lot of great ideas and it's just all about giving them the room to grow. I have some people on staff that are bartenders from around the city that are known and that are great and are passionate and I also have people that have never been an actual bartender. For the later, I am and will always be the one that will say to them: ‘let’s get you on the menu, I know you’re interested, I know you’re passionate, let’s give you a chance’.  Because I think a lot of the people are just waiting for a chance. And so many people feel territorial over their bar as they should. But at the same time, someone gave you a chance, you need to give someone else a chance.  


What is the most memorable drink that you’ve ever had and why do you think it is that memorable?


I think my first super memorable cocktail was at Rooh -a fine dining Indian restaurant in Columbus, Ohio- because that's when I really started coming into my own and really defining myself as a craft cocktail maker. That's when I had my own menus and my first menu that I released. As I remember all those cocktails, I do think of them as my babies and I do love them all, but the first one that really made me think, oh I could do this, was a drink called kokum , I had a hyper fixation on kokum for a while. It all started out as a challenge because I didn’t think I could make its flavor work at all! kokum is such an interesting fruit to use, they dehydrate it by just throwing salt on it so NOW I can only imagine all the variety of flavors that can come out of it.


Genevieve, for people mixing things at home, what's one piece of advice for all of us?


I think a solid advice is just to start changing the classics, getting your standard builds and then understanding why this goes into it. Why this is the balance there, and how balance is created.


At the same time, also just knowing that there are no fucking rules, you know, yes there are rules to techniques but at the same time, there are none. Am I going to be mad if you shake my old fashioned? Yeah. But if you want to shake a drink that you made and you like the aeration and you have the justification to explain why you did it that way, then hell yeah.


If you could mix a drink for anyone dead or alive, who would that person be?


That's a tough question, but I have two answers. First, my mom. She doesn't really drink, especially not cocktails. She's only tried one of my drinks when ILILT opened and once when I brought some Rooh for the holidays. I would love to create her dream cocktail. She never visited Denmark, Rooh, or Speck, and usually, when we see each other, I don't have the chance to make her a drink. As a single mom who adopted two daughters from China, one of whom has special needs, she's an incredible, strong woman. I want to do something special for her whenever I can.


Or Amy Winehouse, an incredible person. I would have loved to be the bartender who made her a bomb mocktail, showing her how delicious non-alcoholic drinks can be. I wish I could have talked with her about her troubles and pains, becoming the "bar therapist" she felt comfortable opening to.


You have been in this industry long enough now to be in the presence of change, what would you say is the biggest change in this industry so far?


I think bars used to have a big emphasis on taking a classic and twisting it. When I was kind of coming up, everyone was using blueprints of classics and making it their own, which I love to do, and I think is a really great way to make bomb cocktails. But now, more and more people are making a cocktail and just being creative with it, most of the times they realize whatever they created is a version of a classic but that’s how it is today.


What are you more excited about in 2024?  


Daniel, life is fricking good right now, so I'm really excited to see where I do get to at the end of 2024. I am about to come up on my one year with my partner and I'm excited to see where that goes, AND we got a puppy and oh my god!  I am very excited for people to come visit us at ‘I Like it Like that’ and try our menus, we’re a cocktail bar but we do have an amazing kitchen too. We're really lucky that everyone's just so passionate about hospitality here.


Genevieve has such as sparkling personality, she’s fun, she’s smart and a powerful woman that dedicates all her intention to create very interesting stories though cocktails. I’ll see her soon; I already have a dealer’s choice name in mind.




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