Drink Insider: Lara Ewald of Big Orange Midtown

As Big Orange: Midtown celebrates its first decade of burgers and craft cocktails, Lara Ewald is intent on shepherding the bar program into the next decade rooted strongly in its existing creativity and passion. Having worked as a server at Big Orange for years before stepping behind the bar and now as the Bar Manager, Lara is building on the unique and remarkable cocktail culture in Big Orange: Midtown.

Originally from New York, Lara brings a strong love of the social and communal aspects of restaurants and bars to her bartending and managing. With the goal of having fun and reducing the stress of preparing a dinner at home, working as a server and helping people have a memorable night out has been one of Lara’s greatest joys. While working at Big Orange: Midtown, Lara counts Lee Edwards and Luigi Uzcategui as influences on her. The former bar managers for Big Orange: Midtown helped to shape Lara’s cocktail outlook while shaping Big Orange: Midtown itself. The strong respect for having a night out and enjoying well crafted and memorable drinks without just drinking to excess reinforced the love of the complexity and artistry behind a well made cocktail for her.

Stepping up to manage the bar at Big Orange: Midtown is no small task. The first purpose built Yellow Rocket Concepts location, Big Orange: Midtown is a flagship for the brand and sets the tone for the careful balance of classic cocktails and innovative spirits. This balance is part of what drew Lara deeper into the bartending and cocktail culture – cocktails should be an accessible pleasure not a barred off experience. The creativity that is encouraged at Big Orange: Midtown drives Lara and shapes what she hopes to bring to the future of the bar program.

First and foremost, Lara stressed how much she wants to invite the customers into the experience of the cocktail. Sharing not only the love of spirits, but of community and fun, Lara plans to encourage more cocktails that enhance a guest’s visit by asking them to take part in the cocktails. She is hoping that the future will also let the bar feed a sense of community and be a part of the neighborhood and larger cocktail culture as well as a place to enjoy a few moments of letting one’s hair down.

Lara approaches making drinks like this in a sophisticated way. She first looks at whether there is a larger theme for a menu when designing a new drink and takes some inspiration in those limitations and being pushed outside of her comfort zone. Next, she tries to think through the flavor profile that would fit that theme and inspiration with a “culinary” mind to pair and enhance those flavors. Staying true to the innovative spirit of Big Orange: Midtown, she has challenged herself to go beyond the usual array of flavored syrups when adding these complimentary flavors.

The Party Bomb is a great example of how Lara takes those bartending skills rooted in the classics but enhanced by her boundless creativity. Tasked with creating a unique cocktail to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of Big Orange: Midtown, Lara showed the skills she has built over her time behind the bar. Instead of relying on the signature Velvet Orange, Lara played with that same flavor profile but in a way to find a fun WOW factor. She asked herself, “What if we put a big orange in the glass?” and went from there. This unique and reflective concept led her to freezing orange ice spheres with a mint leaf in the top, evoking an orange in the middle of the drink. To bring about a balanced but refreshing drink, Lara started with her favorite liquor, gin, and added peach liqueur and lemon juice before balancing that with the herbal and bitter flavors of Apertivo Cappelletti, a red hued wine based herbal alpine liqueur, and Amaro Nonino, a bittersweet grappa based Italian “liqueur”. If you don’t think the amaro nonino is your thing, you can ask them to leave it out and still get a vibrant and lively cocktail with a definite WOW factor as the melting orange sphere slowly changes the drink as you enjoy it.

Instead of waxing poetic about how the Big Orange: Midtown bar program is in great hands, go see for yourself as Lara Ewald steps up to lead what she called the most accomplished and inspiring coworkers and peers she has ever had while fostering creativity, hospitality, and fun in one of Little Rock’s iconic spots.

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