Where he Won
First Bartending Experience
I worked at a place called Corner Shop in Manhattan for about six years, working my way up from being a food runner and buser and waiter. I started right before my 24th birthday. I jumped behind the bar as soon as I could because it looked like a lot of fun.
Best Home Bartending Tip
One of the most important things to know is when to shake a cocktail and when to stir it, and how to properly do that. When you shake something, you have to find a finesse, to do it aggressively enough without overdoing it. Same thing with stirring the cocktail: You don’t want to over-dilute the drink, but you want to make sure you get it cold enough. Part of it’s a personal preference, but you wouldn’t ever really want your margarita stirred. You’d want it shaken: fresh and bubbly and lively. Manhattans are better stirred so they’re smooth and rich, and not all full of little ice chips and bubbles.
Guilty Pleasure Drink
A piña colada, and if you really want to make it a real guilty pleasure, you can make it a Miami Vice by adding a blended strawberry daiquiri to the top of it.
Secret to a Great Manhattan
You need a good rye whiskey with a lot of flavor and a lot of backbone, at least 100 proof, like Rittenhouse Rye. You need a good, fresh sweet vermouth like Carpano Antica. The problem with a lot of Manhattans is that people aren’t using fresh vermouth because they don’t realize that it oxidizes and goes bad. Store it in the refrigerator! Then you add Angostura bitters and a cherry or a twist.
How to Build a Drink
I learned the “Mr. Potato Head approach” from Phil Ward, who started Death + Company. Everything is based on recipe templates as a foundation: you start with tried-and-true recipes, and you can substitute things in and out. Then when you start getting inventive, if you start to get lost—when you’re up to 10 or 12 ingredients and you don’t know what the drink is about anymore—you can go back to the classic recipe and find yourself again. You’re using those drinks to remember the proper balance.
Best Cocktail Name
Life’s A Peach and Then You Die. My dad would always say, “Things are just peachy!” And I like the rapper Nas’s song “Life’s a Bitch.” We’re all musically inclined: the owner of the bar is in a band called The Ex Cops, and our head bartender Matt used to be in a band too, so we use music as a reference a lot.
There’s a tiny bar in Berlin called the Rum Trader that’s been there 20 or 30 years. The original owner actually trained and worked with Trader Vic, and now his apprentice owns the bar and works by himself there almost every single day. It’s like his home: he’s always there, and he knows everything about the place, all the knickknacks that have collected over the years. You tell him what you’re looking for and he’ll make up a crazy rum drink for you.