Bartender Lucas Assis Wants to Save TikTok From Celebrity TequilaVinePair
For more stories on TikTok, check out our whole series here.
Like many employees in the restaurant industry, Los Angeles-based bartender Lucas Assis found himself out of work at the onset of the pandemic. Although no stranger to social media, like many across the globe, Assis discovered an unexpected source of camaraderie in the video-sharing platform TikTok.
While Assis has always had an Instagram account, he initially regarded TikTok as an “app where kids would go and just dance,” he confessed in our recent interview. After friends finally persuaded him to post on TikTok, Assis fast became a fan favorite, with a rapidly growing audience that numbers over 30,000 followers today.
TikTok proved to be the perfect medium for Assis, providing him a stage to indulge his love of storytelling. Striking a tone both approachable and authoritative, Assis’s videos are engaging and educational. While he often shakes up classic cocktails and regales viewers with their notable histories, Assis also isn’t afraid to offer his unvarnished opinions on modern spirits, touting himself as “the Brazilian guy who hates celebrity mezcal and tequila.”
Below, Assis shares with VinePair how bartending on TikTok has gotten him through this difficult time, provides a foolproof way to identify quality tequila, and dishes on the international destination he’s headed to drink once travel restrictions are relaxed.
When did you first start using TikTok? What has your experience been like so far?
I want to say it was September of 2020 when I really started posting on TikTok. I was so surprised about how engaging the social media platform is, from comments back and forth but also networking. We call it the BarTok family — it’s a bunch of bartenders who get together and we have a group text where we’re always texting each other. … It’s created such an awesome community. There’s not a lot of craft bartenders on TikTok, which is what I really do, but in the real world there’s this weird animosity between club bartenders and craft bartenders. … I love that on TikTok we’re all working together.
Has using TikTok affected you personally?
Absolutely, especially during this whole time being out of work. I think it’s really kept me going on the creative side — by not losing track of creating cocktails or losing my taste buds while not in the [restaurant] environment everyday. I’ve been contacted [by] and have done a bunch of tastings with different brands, things that we would do on a weekly basis in a restaurant but that I’m doing now on a more personal level.
What do you see for your TikTok account in the future?
For me, in the beginning, what I try to tell myself — and I see this a lot from other people on TikTok, that they’re really stressed about the views — is I’m more worried about the engagement. So I definitely see myself doing this for a while. I often say that I don’t want TikTok to be my only business. I want it to be part of my business. I love to use TikTok as part of almost like a portfolio, and have cocktails that have history, [combined] with my own recipes, my knowledge of mezcal and tequila, and try to capitalize on those things while using TikTok.
What’s your most viewed TikTok video to date?
I did a four-part series of etiquette at the bar, things like why people cover the tops of their drinks. For one of the videos, I [asked] why some bartenders put an upside down shot glass next to your drink. It’s something that you don’t really see that much— it’s a really big thing on the East Coast, but in Los Angeles, I’ve been to just a couple bars that do it. So I just shared that it means that the next shot is free, kind of a way to communicate to the other bartenders that for this person, the next drink is on us. It’s a super-simple video. It’s not a cocktail video, but it’s gotten like over 500,000 views. After that one, it’s [the video] where I say don’t drink celebrity tequila and explain why.
You’re very discerning about mezcal and tequila. What initially drew you into the category?
My wife is Mexican. Her parents are Mexican. She was born here, but she has really strong ties to Mexico and we’ve traveled a lot to Mexico. We would always land around Guadalajara, and I just really started falling in love with the food mostly, and then I got into mezcal and tequila. One of the chefs that I worked for here in Los Angeles was one of the most knowledgeable guys about mezcal and tequila, so I started picking his brain and then really fell in love with the [spirits], too. I was able to travel down to Tequila and visit a couple of the distilleries that he knows there, and talk to the mezcaleros in Oaxaca. I also got to visit the Del Maguey distillery, where they make the Pechuga mezcal, which is one of the most rare kinds of mezcal. I really fell in love with the industry and I feel really strong about celebrity tequila, which I understand is a great business, but it’s also killing that industry.
What would you tell consumers who want to be more thoughtful about how they spend money when it comes to tequila and/or educate themselves about the spirit?
So it’s a really simple thing. Tequila is still very much regulated in Mexico and every tequila bottle has a four-digit number somewhere at the bottom. They’ll have ‘NOM’ and then a four-digit code. If you look that number up online, it will tell you where the tequila is made and every single tequila that’s made at the same distillery. That code is a distillery code. If there are literally 100 tequilas being made in this distillery, [then] this is a mega-distillery; they’re likely using diffusers and additives. … It’s overwhelming getting into tequila because there’s like 150 brands and you don’t know which one is good, but I can tell you there are like 10 that are still made the way it’s supposed to be. They are family-owned and the people really care about maturing the agave, they really care about the spirit. So if you check online, and there’s one tequila or two tequilas made at that distillery, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that it’s going to be a good product.
What’s the drink that made you fall in love with cocktail culture?
The Sazerac, it’s my favorite cocktail — I really believe that the mix of sugar, anise of the absinthe, and whiskey or Cognac (sometimes both) is really just the perfect cocktail.
What’s your favorite cocktail book?
“Regarding Cocktails” by Sasha Petraske.
What’s the first drinking destination you’re headed to once travel restrictions ease up?
Oaxaca, Mexico! I absolutely love that city and state. The food is so different from anywhere in Mexico; the culture, the art, the people are so kind. But most importantly, the mezcal. I can’t wait to go back to learn more and more about this spirit and be able to taste it from the source. Independent mezcaleros have really been suffering with the stop on tourism and we’ve got to do everything we can to keep the art alive.
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