For six years, Leann Berry was a permanent fixture behind the bar at Komali . The popular barkeep with short, spiky blond hair, known for her killer tamarind margarita, was always the center of attention. It is not just because she was making drinks, Berry loves to talk to her customers, some who have been following her career for over 25 years.
Late last October, Berry left Komali. “I just decided to take some time off and do some other things until I find the next chapter in my life,” Berry says. Her first call came from old friend and veteran female bartender Louise Owens, owner of Windmill Lounge. Owens invited Berry to do a pop-up cocktail party at the Windmill.
Other calls came. Now Berry time is filled with consulting jobs for restaurants and liquor companies and doing pop-up appearances all over town. “I’m having a lot of fun and I love doing this work,” Berry says. “But I miss being around my people.”
Berry, who grew up in Keller, graduated with a drama degree from the North Texas State University (now University of North Texas), moved to Dallas, and performed in a comedy troupe. She toured nationally with a group called The Wild Side, lived in New York City, and ended up as a waitress at the original Chili’s location in Dallas in 1985. Her first gig behind the bar was at .
In 2001, she received a call from Monica Greene, owner of the stylish Mexican restaurant Ciudad. “That is where I really got creative,” Berry says. “[Chef] Joanne Bondy and I shared a love for fresh ingredients and I really started experimenting.” No longer content to make a drink with canned pineapple juice, Berry infused tequila with fresh fruit or herbs. She played with pomegranates, tamarind, mango, and apples. She designed savory drinks with spices and peppers. Berry was the only female in town turning out exotic cocktails such as her signature Prickly Pear margarita. Some of the younger guys in the business, according to Berry, “gave me the stink eye.” When the local cocktail awards starting falling to her, the boys backed down.
Berry makes a point to meet as many females in the business as she can. “I love it that there are so many more girls doing it now,” Berry says. “Some girls have had a hard time and I want them to know we take care of each other.”
Berry is waiting for the next chapter in her career. She’s close to making a deal for her own place in Deep Ellum. Until that happens, you can find her experimenting with gin, bourbon, and rum at bars all over town. She posts her schedule on Facebook.