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Behind the Bar with Frankie Shammas

Oceana bartender Frankie Shammas is as infamous for his espresso martinis as he is for his matchmaking.

To praise Frankie Shammas only for his skill behind the bar does him a disservice. Sure, he can craft some of the best cocktails in Los Angeles, but he transforms libations at Sandpiper from an evening or afternoon’s prelude to an experience. And, often, a romance.

Springtime at Sandpiper was a time of relaxed indulgence. Groups chatted over chopped salmon salads near the Brazilian blue onyx fireplace and lounged on the Veranda, with La Playa Margaritas close at hand. And when a guest came to the bar looking for a place to sit, Frankie already had a plan — encouraging her to join another guest who had been smiling at her from across the pool.

The connection was immediate. From early afternoon to past sunset, interest and attachment blossomed poolside, and Frankie kept the drinks flowing and the charcuterie boards delivered so nothing would interrupt the conversation. Frankie’s intuition proved accurate — a few months later, the couple remains dating.

But Frankie’s no stranger to conjuring love when it’s least expected — he’s introduced multiple partners and has married off three of the couples he’s brought together.

“It’s about not doing it as a setup,” he said. “It’s about bringing people together and letting it happen and presenting the opportunity for them to meet.”

Sometimes when Frankie plays matchmaker, it’s not just traditional romance. It’s matchmaking a memory, helping curate a night a guest has yearned to encounter. Or matchmaking something a little stronger, with Frankie creating a perfect expression of who you are, in cocktail form.

His skill behind the bar shouldn’t be overlooked. Whether mixing up classics or inventing his own — he created about three cocktails on the current menu, and upgraded the presentations and garnishes for a few others, including the three-salt rim on the La Playa Margarita — his drinks reflect his own zest for enjoying the present moment.

There’s the Wake-Up Call, Frankie’s take on an espresso martini, featuring Tito’s vodka, espresso, and Dorda chocolate liqueur —his pursuit of a drink that can be ordered any time of the day. The Bohemian Rasp-ody chocolate raspberry dessert martini has a rim of Ghirardelli Chocolate, dipped in a cookie confetti. And the elegant Bold Fashion takes a blood orange liqueur twist on a traditional Old Fashioned. Standing out is part of Frankie’s philosophy, both for recipes and for himself. 

Some of Frankie’s hits you won’t find on the menu — think mint raspberry margaritas, watermelon mint mules and basil cucumber mojitos. If there’s a combination of flavors that sounds intriguing, you can imagine that Frankie is playing with it. And if nothing on or off the menu appeals to you, tell Frankie your mood, your liquor of choice, your favorite flavors, and let him work his magic. 

“My favorite thing is watching guests smile after drinking something I’ve created for them,” he says.

What drew you to bartending?

I got into bartending two years ago. I was in hospitality for 15 or 16 years, on and off. I was a professional dancer and trained people in fitness, and hospitality was a backup. I took a break and then about eight years ago, a friend was a manager of Barrel & Ashes. She reminded me of my love of it. 

I’m a natural caretaker. It has to be in you. For me, it’s a fun game. My theory is that when we talk about going out with friends, we’ll discuss certain events that happen. If we talk about a bar or restaurant, we’ll bring up the bartender or server because they’re part of that experience. I feel that it’s my responsibility for each table to be part of the experience. They want something to go home and talk about. They want memories.

Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” That is absolutely how I feel about this. Most people would rather go back to the restaurant for the service rather than the food. 

LA best cocktails
Photo Credit: Aidan Avery

What inspired you to bartend at Oceana?

My friend was a bartender here and when I saw it, I knew this was a place I would be proud to work. You’re not just part of people’s nights but part of people’s vacations. I keep in touch with a lot of the guests and get really attached.

Chef gives me room to play. I get to work with someone who encourages creativity and is open to finding something new and doing it and offering different things. There’s not one day I come to work where I don’t laugh. You have to bring that attitude.

I feel that it’s my responsibility for each table to be part of the experience.

What drink do not enough people order, but should?

Something that they don’t usually get. 

Can you pair the best drinks depending on your mood?

If you’re in a bad mood, avoid tequila. But if you’re happy, order margaritas and tequila. Whiskey makes celebratory cocktails, or choose a good bourbon.

If love was a cocktail, what would it be called?

I already created one for Valentine’s Day. The Love Poceana.

How do you consistently bring positivity and creativity to Sandpiper?

We make our choice every day when we wake up whether we can have a good day or a bad day. It’s about rolling with the punches, learning whatever lessons we need to learn from every situation, good or bad, and finding the silver lining in those bad situations. Oh yeah — and breathe!

Oceana offers three unique, guest-only culinary and cocktail experiences, along with 24-hour in-room dining. Sandpiper offers creative, chef-driven meals in an intimate, ocean view setting. At the Veranda, enjoy our full menu poolside or by our outdoor fire pits, and Sunset Terrace pairs Pacific panoramas with handcrafted cocktails.

Currently, Oceana's dining experiences are only open to guests. Guests can book a reservation at Sandpiper at 1-800-777-0758.

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From Travel + Leisure ©2021 Travel + Leisure Holdco, LLC, a subsidiary of Wyndham Destinations, Inc. Travel +Leisure is published by TI Inc. Affluent Media Group, a subsidiary of Meredith Corporation. Meredith Corporation is not affiliated with Wyndham Destinations, Inc. or its subsidiaries.   All rights reserved. Used under license.