What I Drink is a series featuring legendary bartenders to learn about how they got started, what they love to drink and discover their go-to cocktail recipes.
After stints at Clover Club, Dutch Kills, Flatiron Lounge, Pegu Club and PKNY, Giuseppe Gonzalez finally opened his own bar this year as he brings us Suffolk Arms on the Lower East Side. It’s a warm bar with classic charm; sketches of NYC notables hang on the walls, rappers, actors, and lawmakers all mingling. He’s doing everything his own way; that means a whole menu section of vodka drinks (including an espresso martini) and an incredible case for the piña colada, topped with bitter Campari. Here, he talks about his history and favorite drinks.
When did you know you wanted to work behind the bar?
My father and grandfather were bartenders. Honestly speaking, I never wanted to be a bartender. I always knew it was a tough life. We see and deal with a lot of things that aren’t “typical.” Your connection with alcohol and people change. I never wanted that.
I would say that changed around 2003. That was the year I decided to go all in on bartending and make it my career. I felt that there was a shift on how I could live my life, the drinks I could be making and the guests I would be serving. It was really just a guess, though. I guessed right, I suppose.
What's the inspiration behind the menu at Suffolk Arms?
Simplicity. A menu template that never changes in structure. The bar menu is a template that gives me the most freedom to take my drinks in any direction the team at Suffolk Arms deems appropriate.
Which cocktail that you've developed in your career is your favorite, and why?
The Trinidad Sour ( a mix of bitters, rye, orgeat and lemon juice) is my favorite story to tell. I have been in about 30, maybe 40, cocktail competitions. I never lost one until 2009. I entered a cocktail competition, that will remain nameless, and presented that drink. I knew it would be a tough sell. There really is no reference point from which a guest/judge can be understand what they’re tasting. I did it anyway. I loved it; I thought it was cool. I paid the price for “keeping it real.” I didn’t even make top ten.
What is your favorite, super easy recipe that someone can re-create at home?
The Duke of Suffolk, our take on the Irish Coffee. Combine 1 1/2 ounces Hendrick’s or Ford’s Gin and 3/4 ounce simple syrup. Top with hot black tea (English Breakfast or Earl Grey); float heavy cream.