Forty hard years in the business isn’t enough for barman Veo Tyson to consider himself a mixologist. He says, “I like to find out what my guest has a taste for, and then I try my best to create it.” And although that takes skill, skill Tyson has obviously mastered, he says he’s not as masterful as today’s mixologists.
He also adds, “I don’t drink that much, and that sets me apart, because these people are drinkers.”
How does a bartender who doesn’t drink much become a local legend? Simple. Practice and patience. Plus, Tyson also happens to have the most easy going, humble attitude.
In 1975 a young Tyson began bartending at Cajun’s Wharf. He was in college at UALR and, like most students, simply looking for a job. “Some great bartenders lived in town at the time, and back then, Cajun’s Wharf was the place to go,” he remembers.
Being around a bar and so many people fit right in with Tyson’s personality. “I got the chance to meet a lot of wonderful people, and being a people person, I got a big dose of it working at a bar.”
He learned a lot during a short time, and credits many for mentoring him. “I had some great teachers, Joubert, he has an establishment on 12th … he took me under his wing and I learned a lot from those guys.”
At Cajun’s, the owner brought the NOLA influence to the restaurant, bar included. Thus, early on, Tyson fell in love with classic cocktails. He says, “One of my old favorites is a Ramos Gin Fizz. It’s a drink with gin, heavy cream, egg whites, a couple of dashes of orange flower and simple syrup. It’s a great drink.”
After getting his feet wet with bartending, Tyson couldn’t quite let it go. Even though he’s also had his share of ‘day jobs’ including working as a wine rep, he’s always bartended. He worked at Macaroni Grill for a little over a decade making drinks, and will have been at SO for ten years this coming January.
Currently he also works at A Plus Medical Supply in sales. “I do it because I love helping people,” he says.
One could argue that his drinks help people, although Tyson is liable to laugh at that statement. His skills with spirits extend over to people, and he has a knack for listening, although he’s sworn to take many of his stories to the grave.
In fact, his fondest memories at SO include the customers. He remembers when a guest in town all the way from New York City asked specifically for him. The guest had been told if he was ever in Little Rock to go to SO and try one of Veo’s drinks. Tyson says, “All I could say was, “Wow.””
Over the years, he’s seen the trends come and go. He remembers, “Back when I started bartending we used to make cocktails such as the Grasshopper, Gold Cadillac, Harvey Wallbanger, and they’ve kind of faded. Nowadays they’re … using muddled fresh fruit and herbs and the cocktails seem more flavorful.” Although he guarantees that some will start to revolve into popularity again.
Over time, Tyson has come to enjoy working with vodka in particular. “It’s a neutral spirit and you can do anything with it. You can make martinis or a fruity cocktail,” he says.
He considers SO and the Hillcrest neighborhood his home. He says, “It’s a wonderful place. I love the people in the neighborhood – I simply fell in love with it. I’ve gotten to be best friends with a lot of people in this area.”
Plus, he knows he’s in great company. “I consider myself part of a great team … Spencer, Al, Thomas and several of my younger co-workers help me create a great drinking menu. … Plus, there’s always a team effort in naming new drinks.”
When asked to compare today’s drinking scene to twenty years ago he says, “The truth of it is, back then we had so many choices. We had Studebakers, we had Tramps, we had Track 10, there were so many other places – Barleycorn’s. … The DUI laws weren’t really enforced back then, so people enjoyed themselves more. It was a different time.”
In the meantime, he’s enjoyed watching the local scene take off in Little Rock. “For its size, Little Rock has a lot of restaurants. … It’s probably because we don’t have a lot of big attractions, like a bigger city. So we go out to dinner instead.”
In terms of custom cocktail menus, he points to Lee Edwards, the former Yellow Rockets Beverage Director as a forerunner of what’s to come. “I worked with him back before he was the guru. Lee has done a great job,” he says.
Currently he loves going to Cantina Laredo and Heights Taco and Tamale. He used to frequent Loca Luna for brunch until SO picked up the option recently, which he says is “absolutely wonderful.”
When not working, which isn’t too often, Tyson likes to workout and rest. Plus, he makes time for his loved ones. “These days I’m real close to my family. I grew up in a family of 9 and I have an 81 year old mom who I spend a lot of time with,” he adds.
To those young bartenders just starting out, Tyson has some sage advice. He laughs, and then says, “Stick with it. I’ve been doing this for forty years and I’m still here.”