Cocktails As Art: How Lauren Mihajlov’s “Lockdown Hobby” Inspired Joy

cocktails hobby Jun 01, 2022

The pandemic seemingly changed everything overnight. As the crisis ushered in a new way of life, many people discovered old things that didn’t matter and new things that did. Lauren Mihajlov was among these people.

Lauren, a Communications leader for healthcare giant UnitedHealth Group, was – like so many others – having a hard time separating “work-life” from “home life” as the day blended together early in the pandemic. But she recognized a need for a shift. When faced with a world that became instantly gray by rising illness, deaths, and transitions, Lauren sought out a way to bring color into her life. 

A wife and mom to two school-aged kids, two dogs, a cat, and leopard gecko, Lauren was struggling to find balance. With work (and life) forever changed, Lauren understood the vital need to lean into a creative endeavor. In doing so, Lauren happened upon a passion for cocktail-making that has given her so much more than pure pandemic relief.

Lauren, what inspired you to start making craft cocktails?

When the pandemic first hit, I was working in Optum Care, supporting our health care providers all across the country. As you can imagine, the days were long. We were supporting the people who were holding up the world and were grateful to do our part. But Covid didn’t keep office hours and I was struggling to find balance in my own work while also helping my kids, who were also home and learning online. 

I felt like everyone else was using their unexpected time home to write books, learn languages and instruments, do yoga and work out more, and I was “just” working, more than ever. I felt tired and left out. The days were running together in a way that felt surreal and I didn’t have the time, headspace or energy to take on something taxing. But I needed something to bring some variety, color, and novelty to my days… or I was going to lose it.

Three moments set the stage for me to start making craft cocktails:

  1. In a first stab at some variety, my husband and I set a goal of making a new recipe from Ina Garten every day for a week. One day, it had gotten late so we opted for making one of her cocktails while we baked a frozen pizza. This was the start of the idea. 

  2. A few days later, we sadly realized that we had, weeks ago, made plans to have dinner that night with friends at Pittsburgh Blue, a restaurant here in Minnesota, plans that were clearly canceled with all eat-in dining closed. I was lamenting the fact that I wouldn’t be able to have their Rosemary Lemon Drop martini and set about trying to make one at home, making rosemary simple syrup and playing with amounts and ingredients until I was pleased with the result. 

  3. Last but not least is Stanley Tucci! During this time, Stanley Tucci shared a very simple video online on how to make a negroni and it went viral. It was so enticing! Just a lovely craft, not difficult, but beautiful.


All of this made me start to think about cocktails as art. Art with a reward at the end of getting to drink a cocktail! Stanley used a coupe glass, which I didn’t have in my bar. So, it inspired me to find some fabulous 1950s vintage coupes online that my sister gifted me for my birthday. When they arrived, it became clear they were meant for beautiful drinks, not just any old thing. And with that, the idea was fully formed. 

For the next five weeks, I made an average of a cocktail a day. My husband was still going outside to work every day, so I’d place orders with the liquor store and he’d do curbside pick-up on his way home, often getting questions about what on earth we were making with such an oddball collection of whatever ingredients we were adding to the bar that week, whether it be Absinthe or Suze or a small batch Bourbon or the delightfully purple Empress 1908 Gin. 

After that, as I started going into the office on a hybrid basis, I dialed it back to about once a week and I’ve kept that up since. I’m coming up on the two-year anniversary of this little experiment and I’m not bored yet! 

You choose a different theme each time and share what you’ve learned as you go. Were you ever worried about what people might think of you sharing your hobby, especially as you were learning it?

Definitely. At first, I was afraid of looking silly, like I was trying to become an expert in something I absolutely am NOT an expert in – like people would think I was a poser, when there are “real” bartenders and mixologists out there.  Then, I was worried people would think I was drinking too much (looking at you mom) and judge me for that. 

Finally, as my posts started to find their footing and I started tying the cocktails to what’s going on in my life or in the world, they got more vulnerable. From anxiety over world events to hard times in my own life, I put myself out there much more now than I did when I started and that can certainly be uncomfortable. 

What helps with all of those thoughts is that if I fail at a drink (and I have!), it’s very low stakes. Dump it out, adjust, and try again. Or try something else. Or just admit that not every drink is for everyone. We all have different tastes and that’s okay. More than ok! That’s what keeps things interesting! And what helps me to be comfortable with the vulnerability in my posts is that I am doing them just for me, not for clout. I don’t have a ton of followers and I’m not using the cocktails or the posts to get more. So, if people don’t like what I have to say, who cares? It’s mine – my views, opinions and truth and, as long as I’m not hurting anyone’s feelings, I don’t care if a post doesn’t land. 

How are you teaching yourself? Did you take a class, do you have people you follow on YouTube or recipe books?

I am all over the place. Pinterest is great for ideas. So is, and Diffords. I’ve also loved exploring the history of cocktails. I got a reproduction of the Savoy’s cocktail book from the 1930s. My mother-in-law got me a copy of the Mr. Boston little red cocktail guide, first published in 1935. I love perusing the cocktail recipe books at various bookstores. There are some truly odd and niche books out there.

Now, I get a lot of suggestions and recommendations from people, which is the best. I’ve had friends send me pictures of cocktail menus or ingredients they think I should add to my bar, or recommendations for drinks they think I’d like. It’s been amazing.

How has sharing this hobby helped you connect to others?

There are worse things in life than becoming known as the cocktail person amongst your friends. I get pinged by people looking for suggestions for a party they’re throwing or a gift they want to give others. “I need something for a holiday party” or “I need something that uses Rosemary”. I love it! Acquaintances have become friends. People I barely know have reached out to say they like my posts, or they were inspired to try something new. I love that so much. Being able to help someone connect to a new flavor or concoction that brings them just a little bit of joy or pleasure? What could be better than that??

Did having this hobby help with the demands of your corporate role?

In a way, yes. Those early days of COVID were intense. This hobby was something AWAY from work – a bit of color, variety, curiosity, and experimentation. It gave me an excuse to step away from the home office and do something just for me. Those kinds of breaks are a necessity for staying engaged.

What would you say to Passionados who want to take up a hobby simply for the joy of it?

DO IT. If my little hobby shows anything, it’s that it doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking. If you want to learn something new, but the idea of adding even one more thing to your busy life is overwhelming, find something small. Something quick. Something simple. Can you find time to do a mindfulness practice for two minutes each day? Can you do a two-line journal? Can you start an herb garden? Too much? Then how about an aerogarden instead? I’ve had so many people suggest that I turn the cocktails into a book. I don’t have the time for that right now and, for right now, that’s OK! The cocktails and the missives make me happy. I’m still learning a ton, and that’s all I want from it. 

Learn more about Lauren and her cocktails on Instagram @lmihajlov.

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