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Mixologist Sam Ross on Attaboy, the Future of Cocktails and Pot Still Rum

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Sam Ross

Courtesy of Sam Ross

One of New York's storied modern speakeasies, Milk & Honey, is relocating from its Lower East Side location, but the original space hasn’t seen its last cocktail. After seven years at Sasha Petraske's low-key, referral-only legend, bartender Sam Ross hopes to open Attaboy there by the end of the summer with fellow alum Michael McIlroy. Even sooner on the horizon, Ross will launch an iPhone app next month called Bartender’s Choice, which lets users search recipes by primary spirit and preferred flavor profile. Here, Ross talks to F&W about his new bar, trends and the future of the industry.

Where does the name Attaboy come from?
It was Michael’s idea. It was this old vintage store in Belfast, and he was always fond of the name. When we first started talking about this a couple of years ago, that was the name that we threw around, and it seems to have stuck.

What can we expect?
It’s going to be classic cocktails to the highest degree. We’re going to open up the front a little bit and expose it to the street. We’re not going to take reservations. We’re going to do a couple of quirky things and a couple of things we’ve saved up over the years. It’s going to be a beautiful little cocktail joint. The main feature change is that we’re going to have a long bar—half bar seating, half booths—and you’ll have two bartenders, not just one.

What do you think is the future of the cocktail bar?
I think what you’ll start to see—and I’m definitely a supporter of this—is more "boozery"-type places. More low-key places where you can get an exceptional negroni or daiquiri but there’s a pool table, and you can listen to rock’n’ roll, and the bartender is wearing a Mets cap and jeans. That’s what I’d like to see: my local pub where I could drink beer or take shots if I want to, but also know that they’ve got good ice and fresh garnishes and they’ll shake up a Cuban rum daiquiri if I so require.

What are some of the latest cocktail trends?
I’ve always leaned very heavily toward the bitter side of things—Campari, Aperol, all the Amaro that is becoming available to us. And I find this is starting to catch on. A lot of people are drinking negronis now—it used to be just an industry drink. I think people are starting to steer away from the sweet and, to some extent, citrusy stuff as well.

How about regionally?
I do a fair bit of work out in San Diego, and I’m always shocked at the amount of people coming in requesting smoky mezcals—substantially more than what I was exposed to in New York. I’m not the hugest fan of tequila and mezcal, so it’s been a challenge for me. I have to find a way to make drinks that maybe I wouldn’t necessarily drink. I’ll always look to a couple of great bartenders—Phil Ward [NYC's Mayahuel] and Anthony Schmidt [San Diego's Noble Experiment]—whose tequila and mezcal drinks are sensational. I’ll go to my little booklet of their originals and make something of theirs.

What would you like to see?
Overproof pot still rums [made in pot stills for small-batch distillation]. There’s a great rum producer called Inner Circle that does an overproof pot still style, which isn’t available over here, unfortunately. I bring it over when I come back from Australia. It’s got that next level of intensity that I think would really be appreciated today.

What was the last cocktail that wowed you?
An old tiki drink that’s been heavily adapted by a bartending friend of mind called the Jungle Bird: Black Strap rum with pineapple, lime and Campari. That to me is one of the most astonishing drinks I’ve tried in a couple of years—just in terms of getting something that you wouldn’t quite expect. There’s the pineapple, the coffee and chocolate notes of the rum and then you’ve got this Campari finish. It’s just such a unique and amazing drink that I’ve been making that for as many people as possible.

Ross’s Recipe for the Jungle Bird
1 1/2 oz Cruzan Black Strap rum
1 1/2 oz fresh pineapple juice
3/4 oz Campari
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz simple syrup

Shake and strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with pineapple leaves and orange.

Related: Classic Cocktail Recipes
Invent Your Own Cocktail Party
50 Best Bars in America

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