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Story #11Cocktails CoutureAustin, TX

Treat each moment as an opportunity to live and breathe art. The clothes we choose, the words we select, the way we interact with others – it’s all an opportunity to meet life in an elegant and aesthetic fashion.

Are you willing to compromise? It’s the question all artists loathe, but inevitably must answer. Some opt for the high-risk proposition to stay “pure:” their artwork, nothing else. Others adapt, steering their artistic talents into established career channels. For Leah B. Flippen, artistry has always been more than a means to an end; it is part of her journey. Thus, compromise was never a consideration. She merely determined how to capitalize on her unique blend of service industry heritage, visual artistry and style, to carve out a new niche in the world in which she could prosper. The result? Cocktails Couture.

As with most breakthroughs, all the right elements had to be in place for the inspiration to catch fire. “It was a series of events,” recalls Flippen. “A long work history in the service industry, being an artist, and being exposed to culinary arts at young age. I see each day as a work of art, and I approach bartending the same way.”

In the era of “The Mixologist” – and Flippen is certainly one of the greats – the fact she often refers to herself simply as a bartender is telling. Rather than shrink from the nature of her profession, Leah commits herself to it 100 percent. Her passion shines through in every drink she prepares, and in every experience she creates for her clients. This combination of drive, work ethic, and commitment has made Cocktails Couture a huge success.

While many small businesses come to life after years of dreaming and planning, Cocktails Couture was born from a spontaneous opportunity. “It was a total happenstance,” she says. “I had the night off, and a friend asked if I was interested in bartending a private party. I took the initiative, showed up with several grocery bags full of beautiful produce, laid it all out on the counter in a nice fashion and made lovely drinks all night long. Within the course of the evening, I had three people inquire if I would bartend for them.”

From there, Flippen was off to the races. She began honing the unique touches that were so well-received at that very first party, from her collection of beautiful antique glassware to the artistic layout of her ingredients and workstation. For each event, Leah develops custom drinks designed to her clients’ tastes then draws hand-scripted menus that also include a selection of quintessential vintage cocktails. As the business has grown, Leah has enlisted the help of some extraordinary staff. For large events, she manages a full team of veteran bartenders who share her sense of style, craftsmanship, and personal grace.

Exquisite artisan cocktails play an undeniable role in the success of Cocktails Couture. But the experience is also about something bigger. The passion and artistry Leah brings to her work breaks down the social constructs that so often exist between guests and those who serve them. A Cocktails Couture event is, in and of itself, an artistic expression – collaboration in real time, crafted with an infusion of spirit from all those in attendance.

Photos by Christina Clusiau

  • Nothing inspires sharing a sip more than the feeling you got the best drink on the menu. Leah's secret is that they're all the best.

  • One of each? The calligraphy on the evening's menu is a beautiful work of its own.

  • Leah and her team prepare a bounty to put into play.

  • As a visual artist, Leah values color in all of her concoctions - although never at the expense of taste.

  • No method is too high tech or detail-specific. Each chunk of pineapple gets a proper mini-grilling.

  • Leah's ready for game time at a gathering of friends who are celebrating right.

  • Leah chats with guests. Her approach breaks down the traditional walls between "guests" and "servers" to create an infectious free-flowing vibe.

  • Classic craft bartender Nicholas Justin Mork tastes a homemade mixer.

  • Leah relaxes with a drink of her own after another successful evening for Cocktails Couture.

  • Hands-on prep begins the week of the event.

  • Every cocktail is made from scratch, including the mixers. The ingredients are all natural, sourced from local farmers.

  • Leah and her staff are a joy to watch. Their precision attention to detail is like artistry in motion.

  • The team's combination of speed, grace and precision adds extra flavor to the experience.

  • Every step of the process of crafting a great cocktail is performance.

Q & A

As the last of the guests said their goodbyes, we pulled up a seat at the bar and savored a spicy cherry lemon bourbon sour.

Does this business help you pursue your art? And vice versa?

That’s a really good question. Absolutely, the two inform each other and they also support each other. My ultimate reasoning is that Cocktails Couture will help me afford the rather expensive habits that I have in the art world. My work with large format photography can be quite expensive, as is painting in general. However, between my art shows, my commissions and my business, it all seems to balance out.

And what’s the biggest challenge so far ?

I suppose managing my time more efficiently. I try to take on too much by myself. I constantly have to relearn how to ask for help. I am a graphic designer as well, so I do all my own websites for both my art and my business – the business cards, logos, advertising, social media. It’s been an enormous undertaking, in addition to just trying to do the actual work and the admin. Learning when to hire and when to let go is another big one, too.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs, small business owners, or artists?

Not to be afraid. There are so many times where it seems impossible to achieve but if we just keep hopeful and positive and optimistic and not give up on that…anything we desire is attainable.

Business Details

Proprietor: Leah B. Flippen
Austin, TX
PH: 347-901-9339 / Website
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