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Two men sit in a black booth at a turquoise table with a yellow wall to the left. They’re both drinking a shot.

Chemistry Is the Secret Weapon That Makes Saint Valentine Work

That and the no assholes policy

Noteworthy: Gabe Sanchez (left) is doing a tequila shot while Ryan Payne (right) is doing a shot of water.
Courtney E. Smith is the editor of Eater Dallas. She's a journalist of 20 years who was born and raised in Texas, with bylines in Pitchfork, Wired, Esquire, Yahoo!, Salon, Refinery29, and more. When she's not writing about food, she co-hosts the podcast Songs My Ex Ruined.

There are several matters of taste that Saint Valentine owners Gabe Sanchez and Ryan Payne disagree on. Chief among them is The Smiths or The Cure? Sanchez prefers the former, without being a Morrissey apologist, while Payne has a tattoo of singer Robert Smith’s silhouette on his stomach.

The duo also diverge on what to drink. Payne is doing Dry January while Sanchez wants to share his default drink of choice, tequila shots, to get through this interview with Eater Dallas. The yin and yang is the chemistry that makes their relationship work but that chemistry is literal too — just look at the menu, order a cocktail, and you’ll immediately understand the depth of their knowledge about mixing elements.

The menu is intentionally easy to read and full of recognizable cocktails, but the depth of craft and quality of these drinks is obvious on first sip. The pair have long history in bartending. Sanchez developed cocktail programs for bars all over Dallas, and notably launched the now-defunct Black Swan. Payne has done the same and is the former owner of Tiny Victories; he sold his ownership stake back to the This & That group to launch Saint Valentine.

“As long as you’re not a fucking asshole, and if you are no one is going to like you and we will make sure you know it, but if you’re on a date, if you just got off work and need to commiserate, if you’re here with friends and catching up — you will find your place here,” Sanchez says.

And, with a little help, you will find your drink. But if you don’t know what to order, ask the bartender to Try Something New. (You’ll get a whiskey shot and a Miller High Life).

Freezer martinis

A man pours a martini from a bottle. Next to the martini glass is a Sazerac that’s already been made and an empty candle glass.
Patrons sit on stools at a bar.
Gabe Sanchez sits at a turquoise table, his left hand on his face and he’s smiling. The table in front of him is full of drinks.

Sanchez: The idea with all of the cocktails is to make things as good as we can make them efficiently and effectively. If the staff are busy when you order that martini, even if it’s the last thing poured, it is dying immediately. But if it’s held at minus one or two degrees, pre-diluted, and comes out in the closed bottle, it will be theoretically the coldest martini you’ve ever had. By batching the drinks, you know I made that. This method ensures we’re still making them, or at least touching them, every time.

It is made with goose fat and enoki [infused] vermouth, which has a little bit of MSG. So when someone drinks that for the first time and chases it with the Gilda, which has little spicy peppers and anchovies — it makes you sit up in yours seat.


Ludafish

Gabe Sanchez and Ryan Panye sit at a table, lifting shot glasses to their mouths. Behind Gabe, someone is photo bombing the shot.
A table full of drinks, all in different glasses, with a metal tray holding loaded fries in the middle. A man’s tattooed arm is in the lower left. He’s holding on to a Modelo beer.
A Sloppy Jane sits in a paper container with a green shot next to it. Other food is out of focus in the relief.

Payne: From the Churched Up Beer [section of the menu], it’s a shot of tequila, a Modela, and sangrita verde. I was throwing around the idea of a green Bloody Mary but Uncle Gabe’s Bloody Mary mix over here is world-famous, and it’s really good, that I didn’t want to step on his toes. So, we agreed on a sangrita.

Sanchez: He’s blistering tomatillos for this — it’s his thing. It's important that the staff sees him back there making these drinks and struggling. They have to understand [this career] isn’t a linear thing. Then when someone drinks it and perks up, they see the work pays off.

Payne: It’s the No. 1 selling Churched Up Beer so...


Space Vato

A bartender strains papaya juice into a cocktail.
Gabe Sanchez and Ryan Payne sit at a table, looking forward with serious faces. Numerous drinks surround them.
Patrons at a bar sit at the end of a row of black benches with small circular turquoise tables.

Payne: Mezcal is hot right now, and people want to get into it. This cocktail started with cantaloupe, actually, but seasonally it was easier to get papayas to work with.

Sanchez: It’s not tiki but it's tropical, it’s Mexican, it’s a little bitter, and it’s something a cocktail nerd can enjoy, but so can someone who doesn’t drink. When you see it on the menu, you don’t feel weird — you don’t have to look around or wonder if you’re drinking the right thing with this one, and hopefully anything on the menu.

Payne: There was a battle to get the crushed ice machine for the ice in this drink. It just came in, but we were using Sonic ice. I got in good with the people there.


Sazerac

A Sazerac sits on a table with a red coaster next to it that reads Saint Valentine and has a hare on it. A bowl of noodles is visible in the upper right.
Men stand at a bar talking.
Gabe Sanchez and Ryan Panye sit in a booth, both laughing. Gabe’s hands are up in a shrug, while Ryan holds his hands together in front of his chest. Many drinks are on the table in front of them.

Sanchez: At any cocktail bar, the first thing I order is a Sazerac. It’s simple and then I know that if that’s good the rest of the menu is going to be fucking amazing. We decided to wash the brandy with duck fat to get a mouthfeel you’re not expecting. We made our menu to have an Old Fashioned, a Sazerac, and a daiquiri — not difficult drinks. Anyone could make [them]. We put effort into those simple drinks so you trust us. Hopefully, we instantly grab your respect and then you can go on the rest of the journey with us.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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