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David Tye Brings Craft Cocktails to the Crab Hut

And, if you’re lucky, you’ll find him behind the bar at Sycamore Den


David Tye behind the bar at a recent Craft at the Cove event at George's at the Cove. | Photo: Joshua Kasumovic

So maybe the Crab Hut isn’t the first, second, or even 10th place that comes to mind when you think about craft cocktail spots. That’s likely going to change. In February, the owners of the local Louisiana-style seafood chain tapped David Tye to create a cocktail menu for Mira Mesa and downtown locations. Tye is one of San Diego’s most respected bartenders — he put The Lion’s Share on the cocktail map and, last fall, came up with a 51-drink menu that was pure genius. But Tye and The Lion’s Share parted ways earlier this year.

“I was going one way and they were going another,” he said. “It’s still a great bar; a lot of great people work there.”

He’d met one of Crab Hut’s owners, Ky Phan, when he was still working at TLS; she was a fan of his cocktails. When he left, the owners—Ky, Kim Phan, and Quan Le— asked Tye to put together a menu for their new Mira Mesa restaurant, which opened in March. That eight-week consulting gig led to Tye signing on as Crab Hut’s beverage director. He’s currently helping with an overhaul of their downtown location, which is already serving some of his cocktails, including classic punch bowls.

The owners, he said, gave him free rein to build a quality bar that included a large selection of high-end and lesser-known Scotches. For the beer menu, Tye made sure it included mostly local selections. And, for the cocktail menu, he went with a tiki theme to complement the restaurant’s Caribbean influences and to keep things simple. The focus, he said, is on fresh juices and quality liquors. 

“The craziest cocktail I have is tequila, mezcal and a little bit of green Chartreuse,” he said. “I wanted to get across what a good quality cocktail tastes like.”

Iconic San Francisco bar Trick Dog was the inspiration for how he presented the menu—instead of overwhelming customers with words like “syrup” or “bitters” or “infusion,” the menu lists the basic elements of each cocktail. The Gold Plated Ship, one of Tye’s favorites, is described as “aged rum, mango, pineapple, lime, banana liqueur.”  The Storm Chaser is, simply, “white rum, grapefruit, lime, guava.” It makes it easier to pick a drink, Tye said: “Do I like this flavor? Yes or no?”

The drinks are also fun to look at. Rather than a simple pineapple-wedge garnish, Tye includes a pineapple wedge, pineapple leaf, an orchid, and a fun straw. It’s the fajita effect, he said—when a customer’s served a cocktail, everyone’s looking to see what that guy over there just ordered.

For now, you probably won’t find Tye behind the bar at Crab Shack’s Mira Mesa or downtown locations—he’s focused on bartender training and fine-tuning the cocktail program. If you’re a fan, keep an eye out for him at Sycamore Den, where he’s taken on a part-time gig to help staff with a busy fall schedule. He calls it “unicorn status.”

“I pop my head up when necessary,” he laughed.

Got suggestions for a future column? Write to 2kellydavis@gmail.com.

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