Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught have made their restaurants into something like family. The pair behind Hugo's Prego, Backstreet Café, and Caracol have a dedicated army of veterans who have been with them on grand dining adventure for decades. One of them is Kathy Brophy, bartender at Prego. She's been behind the bar for 25 years, and with the restaurant for 17. Here, she talks about serving people, making a mean lemon drop and kicking back with a cold beer.
How did you come to do this?
I've known ever since I was a child I wanted to be in this business. I'm from Dallas and I remember going out to eat with my family and I just loved this idea of bringing people things that made them happy.
Did you ever wait tables?
A little, but mostly I've been behind the bar. I bartended up at Texas Tech, and I just really got into it. Plus, I'm a people pleaser, so what's better than bringing them drinks?
How have you watched the bartending business change?
Oh, this is going to sound like I'm so old. ‘You know kids, back in the day—' Except, back in the day, when I bartended down on South Padre, it was a lot more like bam-bam-bam: You mixed drinks, you poured shots, you got them out. Now, over the last few years, there's been this great craft cocktail movement, where bartenders are taking more time with drinks, using more ingredients, looking back at classics, re-imagining them. That's cool to see.
What's the most popular cocktail here at Prego?
The lemon drop. People love them! And I really like making them. I do mine with Tuaca orange-vanilla liqueur. It gives it this great structure and flavor. It takes the edge off the acidity of the lemon. With a sugared rim...
Obviously, Prego's a restaurant, so you're serving wines that pair well with the food. What kinds of things are people ordering?
Reds. Big reds. Blends. They love the super Tuscans. Especially the Vietti Nebbiolo and the Devil's Backbone. That's an Alexander Valley red blend, and it's really good. Plus, it's getting toward Halloween, so people get into the Devil part of it.
What's been the most fun for you about being at Prego for nearly 20 years?
It's like a great big family. I love how I'm seeing the kids of my customers grow up. One was in here a few weeks ago and it was his 21st birthday. He came up to the bar and said, ‘Now you can legally serve me.' That's such a great feeling. I've traveled with some of our guests, and it really is like they become family. We've even named drinks after some of them. Like the Davenport. It's Monkey Gin and tonic with muddled blackberries, mint, and a lemon twist.
If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?
Oh, wow, I don't even know.
And where are you drinking when you're not behind the bar here?
You know, I have this great boyfriend. And there's a pool in my house, and he built me a bar out there. So, when I'm not here, I'm at home by the pool.
And what are you drinking?
Beer and a tequila shot.
What kind of beer?