Much like food, some of the best (and worst) memories of our lives revolve around a good drink. From the retelling of a bad date to that party that ended early because the bar ran out of liquor, cocktails are more ingrained in our lives than we think. But there’s more to a good sip than simply pouring something in a glass.
The best cocktails create an experience, and the vibe is set by the person behind the bar. A bad mixologist can have you feeling like you wasted your money. A good one tantalizes your senses, leaving a vivid impression on your mind as well as your tongue long after the drink is done. The latter is the kind of moment 30-year-old Los Angeles native Deniseea Taylor (@chickenandchampagne) seeks to create.
Taylor’s brainchild, Cocktails by POP, specializes in cocktails and style, infusing fashion into each bar set up and cocktail design to create what she calls liquid art. Her “art” has caught the eye of major brands like Gucci, L’Oréal, and Red Bull, all of whom have hired Taylor to create bar moments for them at events that, well, pop.
Her unique style, hustle, and creative flair caught our eye as well, so ESSENCE caught up with the budding cocktail queen to learn a little more about her journey, her dream clients and how we can get our own bars popping at home.
What led you to a career in the cocktail industry?
Deniseea Taylor: Living in New York City I became fascinated with bar culture. I began to realize that the bar is the one place you can gather complete strangers to talk, laugh, unwind and dance. I would go to all sorts of bars. Dive bars like Cherry Tavern, and luxe bars like the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel. I really fell in love. I began to feel the significance of the bar/cocktail industry. As people, if we are happy, sad, celebrating, mourning, bored, dating, we go to a bar, it’s a part of our lifestyle.
What challenges, if any, have you found to being a woman in the cocktail industry?
I can honestly say there hasn’t been too many, however, I’ve noticed on the day of events, during set up sometimes I’m treated as if I can’t handle the “heavy” work. I do it all, from cocktail creation, prepping in the kitchen, and unloading event trucks.
How did you secure the startup funding for Cocktails by Pop?
Honestly, I flipped furniture and vintage clothes. At the time with the encouragement and support from my significant other, I stayed home to experiment with cocktails. While doing that in Atlanta, I would visit the thrift shops around our neighborhood, buy furniture, and flip it online. It’s hilarious because we’d have a couch for a week, he would come home and it would be sold. From that point I would blindly email event planners, production companies in the city to introduce Cocktails by Pop as a new service.
My main goal is to make sure my guests remember a moment with us long after the glass is empty.Deniseea Taylor
What’s something you wish you knew before you launched?
I wish I knew a bit more about the event planning business because these services go hand in hand. It hasn’t been much of a challenge to learn as I go, but sometimes I think it would have given me a better chance with some clients.
What makes Cocktails by Pop so unique?
Cocktails by Pop specializes in cocktails and style, it goes beyond just drinking. It’s liquid art, and my background in fashion and experiences living in Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans, and Atlanta have helped me create that. POP’s whole purpose is to tingle the senses, entertain, and inform. My culture, current events, and history go into the curation of all my bar/cocktails. My main goal is to make sure my guests remember a moment with us long after the glass is empty.
How does fashion inspire your cocktail creations?
I dress my cocktails. I approach menus like a new collection. When designing for a season a designer is choosing colors, fabric, and taking into consideration current events. When I design new cocktails, I’m choosing flavor profiles, the colors they’ll create when combined, and pop culture.
Do you have a dream client or event?
My dream clients would definitely be St Germain, The Brand Group La, and my dream event would be the Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic. I can image the cocktails and aesthetics, and know I would go all out for all of these clients. I’ve dreamed for years of an entire mirrored bar covered in roses and serving champagne cocktails at the Polo Classic.
Are there any other Black women in the industry or in the entrepreneurial space in general that inspire you?
Miss Diddy hands down. We are both from Los Angeles I admire her business savvy and hustle in the industry. It’s very bootstrap and she makes it seem like being an iconic businesswoman is obtainable. I’ve always felt like she’s relatable, supports her community, works with her friends, and shares her successes with them.
As people, if we are happy, sad, celebrating, mourning, bored, dating, we go to a bar, it’s a part of our lifestyle.Deniseea Taylor
What tips do you have for other women looking to follow in your footsteps?
My main tip is to protect your passion. It is what will drive your business when you feel like giving up. It’s very important to truly incorporate real self-care beyond a mani and pedi. I’m talking about sleep, refueling and unplugging when you need to. Also surrounding yourself with people who understand your big ideas.
What’s your secret to making a good non-alcoholic drink?
My secret is fresh ingredients. I don’t try to recreate the wheel, I go with popular flavors that I know hit your taste buds in a familiar way. I’ll then pair with an herb that tickles your sense of smell while you take a sip. I approach both mocktails and cocktails with the same end result – it must taste as good as it looks, liquor or no liquor.
If you had to describe your life with one cocktail, what would it be?
My life is a Classic Champagne Cocktail. A sugar cube for the sweet times, angostura bitters for road bumps, topped off with champagne for exclusivity. Served in a crystal glass because I’m hard to break.
What tips do you have for someone looking to create a bar space at home?
First: Create a dedicated space. Cocktails are an experience and you want to set a mood instead of just pulling bottles from your cabinet.
Second: Make sure you have the proper supplies/tools like shakers, strainers, ice molds, bar spoons, and a muddler, to create a signature cocktail for your home. This way you create a standard your guests will always be impressed with.
Third: Make sure you have at least four spirit options to start (light and dark). Red and white wine, always have two liqueurs (POP faves are St. Germain and anything ginger) and two bitters (angostura and a wild card of your choice).
What’s next for Cocktails by Pop?
Cocktails by POP will become apart of pop culture in 2020 – I’m claiming it. We plan to teach more classes around the world making sure people understand what they are drinking and how to do it safely. We are exploring more public speaking engagements regarding responsible drinking as well. I’m also currently working on an online cocktail column that would mirror our weekly stories we currently share every Wednesday on Instagram. On a larger scale, we plan to self publish a cocktail coffee table book next year.