The Petaluma Bartender Who Concocts Cocktail Recipes in His Sleep

Alfie Turnshek keeps a notepad by his bed, so when a drink recipe visits him, he stirs awake and writes it down.

When Alfie Turnshek sleeps, he often dreams about cocktails—colorful, deeply layered cocktails in rainbow fantasies. He keeps a notepad by his bed, so when a drink recipe visits him, he stirs awake and writes it down.

“Sometimes they work, but sometimes, I’ve had an idea I thought would be absolutely delicious and it turned out awful,” he muses, with a smile. “Any bartender who says that they haven’t ever made a mistake is lying.”

Still, after decades in the business, even his oddest sounding creations can be fantastic. His menu at new Petaluma destination Luma features a “Changeling” that marries aquavit, gin, pineapple and vanilla infusions, lemon, fennel liqueur—and a dollop of Skyr Icelandic yogurt.

“The yogurt is so creamy, refreshing, and really tangy, so it provides a good deal of acid backbone to the drink,” he says.

The Changeling cocktail with Aquavit and gin from Luma Bar and Eatery in Petaluma. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

On the mixologist mantle

In my work community, we differentiate between bartending and mixology, and we prefer the term bartender.

Mixology is the technical acumen of knowing how to work with ingredients and ratios, and how they perform together. But for me, bartending is the connection with people. We are surreptitiously watching guests on that first sip and seeing what their faces do. When my drinks are done right, they breed delight.

Ever crazier cocktails

I try to centralize the offerings to what I think the bar vibe is saying. Are we a dive, or fancy, like Luma? On one end, there’s alienation with unfamiliar ingredients, and on the other end, there’s complete accessibility for everyone. I’m trying to find the sweet spot, where I’m pushing people maybe a little bit out of their comfort zone. It’s not necessarily a dare, but I’m asking them to try something new. I’m always looking to drive the conversation forward.

A chef’s culinary skill

I do advanced culinary techniques, like sous vide water baths to make infusions and get cleaner, more direct flavors. Certainly working for Daniel Patterson at Plum Bar, I was in the height of the molecular gastronomy boom. Collaborating with the chefs to develop novel ways of putting ingredients together and using these advanced culinary techniques was the big part of what I do now.

The low-alcohol cocktail trend

Everybody wants them. Certainly for sober people they’re awesome, but it’s everyone who likes really delicious fresh juice, herbs and such. An anecdote: These four guys came in, early 20s, very bro-y, and one ordered a non-alcoholic drink. I always confirm, ‘You know, there’s alcohol, because you’re in a bar.’ He said, ‘Oh yeah, we’ve been drinking a little bit, so I still wanna keep hanging out, but I wanna take a drink off.’ When I was 23, if you had said that, your friends would have called you something not nice. This is awesome, I love this development in our society.”